At a fundamental level, as human beings, we are all the same; each one of us aspires to happiness and each one of us does not wish to suffer. Whenever I have the opportunity, I try to draw people’s attention to what we, as members of the human family, have in common, and the deep interconnected nature of our existence and welfare.
When I was a kid in the 60’s growing up on the Northwest side of Chicago, we knew all our neighbors and hung out with them every day. It was fun, and helped build a sense of community. During these days of two-paycheck parents commuting and cocooning because they’re afraid to let their kids run unsupervised outside, it is becoming increasingly common to buy a house and eight years later realize that you have never met your neighbors. Why is it so easy to just stay in a little bubble, and not interact with those around us? These times seem to hold a great deal of division instead of unity. February is a month dedicated to Love, and a great time to help your neighbors and community.
How would you describe your neighborhood today? Do you know everyone on the block? Do you feel safe and secure in there? Is your neighborhood comprised of a community of people working together toward a common goal or individual families living independent lives?
Some people are very fortunate to have great neighbors that they interact with every day. Some neighborhoods thrive on over-the-fence conversations each day. Having someone close by to socialize with can create wonderful friendships that may not have otherwise happened. Psychologists at the University of Michigan just completed new research that tested how socially connected people felt and how healthy they were. Turns out, feeling socially connected to your community reduces the risk of a heart attack…a lot. But building trust can be hard. A 2016 Pew Research survey revealed that only half of Americans (52%) say they trust all or most of their neighbors.
Being on friendly terms with your neighbors can lead to better life. Good neighbors watch out for each other and their property. Living in a proactive neighborhood can increase your family’s safety, as multiple sets of eyes and ears can help thwart criminal activity and promote a safer area. There’s an old cliché about borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor. It really is convenient to have someone close by who can help you out when you need an egg to finish a cake, borrow a shovel or drag in your trash cans when you’re gone. The crossing guard on the corner where my dad lives in Des Plaines noticed his need for help, and began to drive him grocery shopping once a week. These examples surround us.
Neighbors can unite in joint ventures, plant a mutual garden, host a community yard sale, or maybe a block party. If you get to know your neighbors more intimately they may share their troubles, which can be an opportunity for you to help. If you hear that a neighbor just got home from the hospital you could make them a casserole. The neighbor two doors away shares that he lost his job you can secretly donate a gift card. When you discover a family living in their car parked in the vacant lot down your block, invite them for dinner and listen to their story.
Giving to your neighbors is contagious. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. This month let’s reach out, get involved, plan an event or make a connection. Be the kind of neighbor you want to have.