I had a neighbor a couple of houses down that I only rarely saw going to and from her car. She must have been retired and didn’t go out much, because I could count on my fingers the number of times I saw her though I lived next to her for almost two years.
I was a stay-at-home mom, so I either was home, outside on the front yard or just looking out my windows. She was never in her yard, although it was well-manicured by a lawn care company that left a sign posted so all passers-by would know where the credit goes. Her blinds were always closed except when she peeked through them to tell neighborhood children playing on the public sidewalk in front of her house to go play somewhere else. I guess that if she ever needed help, she would call a professional service company or family and friends that were not her neighbors. Sad to say, if she had an accident in her house (or worse, God forbid) and was not able to phone for help, we, her neighbors, would never know enough to even help in some small way.
Community Spirit is priceless. Research shows that when we know our neighbors our general sense of well-being is higher. We feel happier, more secure, closer and friendlier when we discover common ground across ages, classes, faiths, races and fences. We feel safer because we naturally look out for people we know. We share tools, skills and stories, and our connectedness makes our lives richer and more sustainable.
While education and interest in intentional communities like cohousing, ecovillages, and pocket neighborhoods is increasing around the world, most of us are not likely to be able to live in such close-knit communities. Regardless, a basic respect for mankind calls us to action.
From one of the many sayings from the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) in regards to neighbors:
Narrated Abu Rafi’: “The neighbor has more right to be taken care of by his neighbor (than anyone else).” Bukhari
So, let’s do it! With the coming of what may be a brutally hot and humid summer in the DC metro area, let’s get to know our neighbors. Just take one of the ten easy steps to get to know the folks next door so that after this summer, you all will have more to talk about than just the weather.
INTRODUCE YOURSELF: Simple, right? It doesn’t matter that you’ve been there 6 days or 60 years. Speak to everyone. If you’re too introverted, shy, or scared, leave them a note asking them to stop by your house later for a chat and tea or coffee. For added bonus points, make an effort to remember your neighbors’ names. Should you forget a name here or there, cheat. (It’s for the greater good.) Whitepages Neighbors has a handy app to help. Just plug in your address and they’ll tell you the names of your neighbors.
DO STUFF IN YOUR FRONT YARD: Our neighborhoods are internally oriented. We’ve got everything we need inside our homes — from air conditioning and iPads, to packaged food and Wii games — that we often don’t even desire to spend time outside. Furthermore, more often than not, everyone has their own room, in addition to rooms that are solely for entertainment. When we finally do get outside, it’s in the backyard. How backwards! Sit on your front porch, steps or set up some chairs in the driveway and read, play cards with the kids, work on your flower beds and shrubs, have a cool drink and enjoy the breeze.
WALK AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Or run. Walk the dog. Ride a bike. Connect with folks as they are coming home from work, school and afternoon activities. Don’t hassle them. They are probably just trying to get in their sanctuary and relax. Just say, “Hi”, introduce yourself and move on. It will make the next conversation easier. Eager beavers can make a goal to shake one new hand a week.
FEED YOUR NEIGHBOR: They way to our neighbors’ hearts’ may be through their stomachs. Bake a batch of your family’s secret sweet or savory recipe. When you have a celebration to which they may not be invited, share a bit in a nicely presented package to spread the love. If you don’t already have your own delicious signature dish, try some new recipes from The Good Neighbor Cookbook.
HELP AND ASK FOR HELP: Lend a hand getting groceries to the their front door. Did they forget to put out their recycling? Bring it to the curb. You know: little thoughtful things you would do for your friends if they lived next door. Next thing you know, you will have friends next door. Then, when the time comes around, ask for help when you need it. Most folks don’t mind helping others. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
BE ACTIVE IN THE COMMUNITY: Go to and/or organize community events. Stop by the local yard sales and flea markets just to chat a bit. Mingle at the local farmers markets. Meet other upbeat neighbors at community meetings, work parties, and classes.
BE KIND TO NEIGHBORHOOD KIDS: You’ve got kids. They’ve got kids. Set up a short play date! (In the front yard, of course.) Or keep ice-pops handy in the fridge. When your children connect with other neighborhood kids — as children so easily do — send them home with a ice-pop and a smile. Their parents will probably come by to meet you. (See Tip #1).
WELCOME THE NEWCOMER: We all remember what it’s like to be the new folks on the block. Make it easier for the next new arrivals by taking the initiative to make them feel welcome with a quick introduction (Tip #1 again) and/or a small gift. Share a short list of neighborhood essentials, for example: trash and recycling pick-up days, the address and names of nearby grocery stores & dry-cleaners, train stations & metro stops, parks, gyms, & community centers, restaurants and theaters. Put your friendly neighborhood-foot forward and start the good-neighbor pendulum swinging.
HAVE A BLOCK ICE CREAM SOCIAL: How much logistical planning does it take to put a couple of gallons of ice cream and a few toppings on a table next to some recyclable bowls, spoons and napkins? Make the event collaborative by asking neighbors to bring their favorite topping. Very few things plant the seeds of community harmony like an old school community ice-cream social. (Don’t forget to put the table in the front yard! Tip #2)
HAVE A BIG LUNCH: I bet you thought I was saving Tip #10 for the classic block party barbecue. Yeah, I know. What’s more American than grilled meat? Grilled Tofurky! Whatever ! Have both. And make it a potluck. Each household brings their dining tables and chairs out in the street, mix that with a bit of each family’s respective dinnerware (green points!) and you’ll have a unique, delicious and lively Big Lunch. No one has to clean up their house because guests will not be coming over, but coming out. The folks at UK-based The Big Lunch can even help make the planning and execution easier.
Getting to know our neighbors is worth the time and effort. What’s been holding you back from knowing your neighbors?
Kori Majeed is a homeschool blogger based in Cheverly, MD, and member of Good Tree Village, a faith-based cohousing community forming in Prince George’s County.