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Village Green/Town Squared

Who Is My Neighbor?

Yesterday Hoco blogger P90Noir asked "Is Howard County an Un-friendly Place?"

This made me think about my neighbors and about being neighborly. What does it mean? And how does one become neighborly?  I wasn't born that way, and I certainly didn't learn it from my parents.  My mother had intense social anxiety and my father was a workaholic.  Other than an occasional child's birthday party, there were no social events in our home. Ever.

We need role models to become neighborly.  Mine is my husband.  He grew up in Northern Ireland and Wales, and, perhaps because of this, he knows how to apply an easy, unselfconcious friendliness to everyone. 

In the years since I came to this little microcosm that we call "Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs," I have seen him stop and chat with Ms. Yolanda and help her change a tire, offer to give Mr. Fridley a few guitar lessons, give Mr. Melvin advice about where his kids can take music lessons, lend an elderly neighbor money for groceries...

At the beginning I shrank from these encounters.  A little voice inside me said. "Don't do that! People don't want to be bothered."

But a few years ago a friend suggested that we could become a better neighborhood by getting on Facebook and using it to communicate with one another.  I was dubious, but I gave it a shot.  It turned out that Facebook was great for shy people like me who don't want to "bother" people.  I began to practice my neighboring skills by reaching out to friends through social media.

I didn't know there would be a test. 

But there was—the winter of 2009-2010. Remember Snowmageddon? Remember being trapped inside with television and your Facebook/Twitter lifeline?  I watched as people used that lifeline to offer help—and give it. To ask for help, and gratefully receive it.  I also watched out the window to see when, if ever, our neighbors would start digging out.

One day it came, a sunny day, no more snow, and we awoke to the sound of shovels. My husband went out.  I offered to help, but my bad back really made that impossible. A few hours later my husband returned, all smiles. "Come out! Come out and say thanks!" he said, grinning.

After he had finished digging out his car, he had started on mine.  Neighbors from either side of our house joined in and dug out my car. No one asked; they just did it.  Mike and Heather (the young couple who were always adopting homeless cats) and Ms. Sonya (who fosters and trains dogs with a magic touch) just pitched in and did it.  I was overwhelmed.

After saying my thanks, I went in the house and made them all brownies.  And then I 'friended' them on Facebook.

Since that day I have had no trouble chit-chatting with Mr. Terrence about the deer that eat the roses, or our new neighbor (whose name I haven't memorized yet) about getting a new roof, or the best places to park.  I've had the best possible teachers on how to be neighborly.

So, to Mr. P90Noir—don't give up.  No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.  You are teaching the rest of us as you go.  Someone, somewhere is learning from your example.

Maybe those bumper stickers should say, "Choose Neighborliness."  If we make that a priority, perhaps civility will follow.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Anne Gonnella June 16, 2011 at 05:42 PM
This sounds so much like my own experience. I never want to bother people so I just naturally keep to myself. Not because I don't want to be friendly - I just don't want to be a burden, but I have been told I seem unapproachable or standoffish or any number of unfriendly things as a result. At my last place we were quite friendly with our next door neighbor, but we never even spoke to them when we moved in. It wasn't until 6 months later when all of our basements flooded in a bad rain, and we went over to offer the use of our generator to pump out their basement that we connected. Oh, wait, I posted about what it means to be a good neighbor once, and my changing views on how much friendliness is involved: http://annethologie.blogspot.com/2011/01/being-neighborly.html
Jessie Newburn June 17, 2011 at 12:07 PM
"Choose Neighborliness." Love it. :-) Hey, while this isn't about physical neighbors, it is about community: I hope to see you and your family at the Monday Night at the Movies Tweet-up. http://twtvite.com/monday-night-at-the-movies
Julia McCready June 17, 2011 at 01:07 PM
@Anne, thanks for sharing your post--as I reread it I remembered liking it the first time! I also remembered a video posted by n@JessieX on how to say hello on the street--I am such an innately shy person that I watched it several times, but still wasn't sure I'd be able to pull it off naturally... I had so much fun at #Lakefest, I'll be sure to join you all for some movies!
b.santos June 17, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Julia, although choosing civility is something an individual has control of, I don't think neighborliness has the same dynamic. I believe there may be a corollary to your, "Choose Neighborliness" initiative. How about "Choose neighborliness...and let neighborliness choose you."
Jessie Newburn June 19, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Julia, I thought of this same post (linked here) when I first read this post - http://hometowncolumbia.wordpress.com/2007/09/19/choosing-civility-say-hi/
Julia McCready June 21, 2011 at 12:48 PM
@b.santos--I like your slogan, but I suspect that it may be a little long for a bumper sticker. ;-)

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