Posts Tagged ‘neighbours’

“Being Neighbourly” by Cindy

So, John is out interviewing today while I keep the dog company and cross my fingers that at least one of the organizations will be smart enough to realize they cannot continue without him.  I’m also waiting for the plumber to come and help us determine why we are the only people in our fourplex without hot water.  Really, a hot shower is my reward for getting out of bed in the morning, so if there is no hot water, why should I emerge from my warm cozy nest?  Fortunately, we have a generous neighbour who was kind enough to let us use her shower this morning, so the stench we accumulated over the weekend has dissipated a great deal, and John was able to go to his interviews smelling as good as he looks. 

Speaking of neighbours, our move back into the city and the space between jobs has given me cause and time to think about the current state of neighbourliness.  I have lived a number of places where I never even met the neighbours, never mind got to know them well enough to borrow their shower early on Monday morning.  So, what is the difference here? 

These days, we often think back to those seasons of running around the neighbourhood not worrying about whose lawn we were tramping across, and we wonder why we don’t know our neighbours anymore.  We try to say hello and smile every time we see them, chat about the weather, and make a little inoffensive joke.  This makes us civil, but does not seem to actually make us friends.  So what did John and I do differently when we moved in here that allowed us to get to know our neighbour so quickly? 

The answer is simple.  We asked her for help and accepted her help when she offered it.  Then, we helped her when she asked for our help.  First, she offered us some extra plates  that she didn’t need, and which, it turned out, we did.  Then, we asked her to dogsit Bobo when we had to go out.  We left our back door open so she could rescue him from the agony of being left alone in the apartment.  I really believe that this combination of asking for help and showing trust allowed us to become actual neighbours – just like in the old days.  We gave her a ride to pick up her kittens and tried to bring her a couch in the truck (it’s not our fault it didn’t fit down the stairs).  We share bread and cookies when we bake, and when we go to the store (and remember), we ask if each other needs anything.

It used to be necessary to get to know your neighbours so that you could help each other in times of need.  When someone was sick, the first thing you did was send someone to the neighbours’ house for help. Nowadays, our society values independence so strongly that we have forgotten that it is OK to ask for help.  We tell children to ask for help when they need it, but do we show them that it is OK for adults to ask for help, too?  Or do we tough it out until we can take care of things ourselves? 

When we ask our neighbours for help, we tell them that we respect them.  We show them that we do not think we are better than them, and we build a connection that no simple greeting can create. It is not enough to be willing to help your neighbours should they ask for it.  It is not enough enough to shovel their driveway when you can or bring over their misdirected mail.  A real relationship is a two-way street – in addition to giving help, you must also be willing to ask for it.  Repeatedly.

We have lived in this apartment for a month and four days.  Many people live places for years without getting to know the neighbours – I know because I’ve done it.  I have also been reticent to ask people for help.  Independence was highly regarded in my family, and if you could do it without bothering anyone else, that was best.  Of course, we asked for help when we really needed it, but otherwise, we had to try it on our own. 

My family was not alone in this.  At some point in our cultural history, we subscribed to a sink or swim philosophy that led us to believe that we were failing if we couldn’t do it without help.  Struggles build character, we say, and “if you got up that tree by yourself, you can get back down,” or “you made that bed, so now you can lie in it.” This might be true, but it seems to me that this forceful independence is not the kind of character that builds community. 

I used to take a lot of pride in my independence, but now I value community and relationships more.  I remember how surprised I was the first time a friend lent me her car because I had learned to regard cars as sacred properties.  Now, I see cars as nothing more than the tools they are, and I am grateful to be in a position to lend my tools to people who need them because people and relationships are so much more valuable than things.

Ask yourself honestly – when was the last time you asked someone for help and accepted it without feeling guilty or trying to somehow even things out with the person as soon as possible?  I admit that I still struggle with this.  No one wants to be a “mooch”, so I am always looking for ways to show that I appreciate their help.  At the same time, though, I do not expect this from people I help, so I am working on letting this go. Most people like helping more than being helped, so it’s OK to accept their help, even if you can do nothing in return.  You may be able to help someone else later, or maybe you have already helped someone who was unable to repay you in any way.  Even if it doesn’t even out in the end – does it really matter?  Is it all really some elaborate score card?  I don’t think so.

Plus, our neighbour makes some pretty delicious cookies.