On Being Neighborly

hancock park houseBy:Grainne Rhuad

If we could consider each other;A neighbor a friend or a brother; it could be a wonderful, wonderful world, it could be a wonderful world. ~Woody Guthrie

I still remember the lyrics to this song.  I had an album by Pete Seeger with it when I was a kid and I played it over and over.  However I think the Neighbor part has skipped out on our Suburban/American consciousness.

Yesterday I got a phone call from my landlord’s  daughter.  My landlord lives somewhere in the Bay Area and leaves the running of his couple of rentals to his daughter.  I have absolutely no complaints about her or him; they have been delightful to deal with.  But yesterday she called to say my behind neighbor had taken the time to go to county records and look up her father’s address to send him a letter about a tree in our yard.

Apparently, they felt this tree which is a lovely shade tree, is encroaching on their three redwoods which grow directly behind it.  She (the daughter) wanted to come and take a look at it, which of course was perfectly fine with me.  It is also perfectly fine with me that the neighbor ask about it, no matter how stupid it seems.  Redwoods grow at an average rate of one foot a year.  In five years those redwoods are going to be so tall that it makes no difference that they are up against my shade tree.

What I do mind is the fact that people who live less than 500 feet away from me couldn’t screw their courage to the sticking place and come knock on my door to ask me who my landlord was and how to get a hold of him.  It wasn’t as if there was a problem with unseemly behavior that they wanted to complain about, it was a bloody tree.

We picked this area to move to because of its proximity to our children’s school and our office.  We live in a subdivision cutely named for one of the signees of the Declaration of Independence; all the streets here have patriotic names like Potomac and Patriot Way.  There are lots of kids, dogs and cats that run around.   There is even a park in the center of the development that was planned along with the development.  Yet eerily enough there is not very much congress between neighbors here.  People walk their dogs without looking at you.  They get out of their cars while studiously keeping their eyes on the front door so they don’t have to return your wave.  And of course, when there is a problem or a question they don’t go to the front door, they go to county records.

It’s all very strange to me, this movement away from knowing your neighbors.  It makes me wonder what being neighborly means to people nowadays. It also raises the question of how we are going to take care of one another, in more ways than one.  Both in times of trouble and in times when we are going to the polls.  If we are so disconnected from people within shouting distance, how much easier is it to distance ourselves from those we chose to really not see?  Like the poor, homeless, drug addicted.  Or if that is too trite for you, how are you going to know bull hockey about the rich, captains of industry, ranchers and farmers?

So in the interest of saving our nation I’m going to ask you subversify readers to answer some questions.

  1. What does your neighbor do for a living?
  2. How many people live in their home?
  3. Who is their closest family contact?
  4. What is a skill set they have that is helpful to the community?
  5. What religious faith do they subscribe to?

Five questions folks.  Take a look around you.  Every house you see, find out about the people who can be your greatest resources and helpmeets.  And for God’s sake…If you have a question screw your courage to the sticking place and go ask your neighbor, you may find a valuable, lifelong friend.

6 Comments on “On Being Neighborly”

  1. mildepiphany said:
    “That’s an interesting article about neighbors. A lot of people in my community are very friendly – they wave, talk, say hello – but there are also a lot who are unfriendly and actually rather aggressive even rude. We live in a country bedroom community – most people I think commute long distances to work and fight the greater Wash DC metropolitan area traffic (2nd worst in the country). I think spending a lot of time in traffic fosters aggressive rude behavior and may likely be one reason why people are so unsociable.”

  2. Welling from that uneasy consciousness that my community is becoming more crowded, more urbanized by the month and year, i read your article with a sense of sadness. I live in a small town; a very small town. Everyone knows each other, watched each others children grow up, know each others situations. But a new breed is moving on; one that looks around and says, “ah! This is such a pretty place, but it would be improved with more people, with sidewalks, shopping malls and orderly houses that all looked the same and all fell under the same economic means.” Why? I wonder. Why not stay where the houses looked all the same if this is what you like? Why not remain in your gated communities where nothing can offend you, not even a disorderly tree? In their eager distorted view of what would make them happy, they infringe on other people’s rights to accommodate a little happiness of their own.

    I don’t doubt that traffic congestion can raise the blood pressure of the drivers. The more congested an area, the more irritable the general atmosphere seems to become. However, i don’t think that’s the prime factor. The road warriors are also seen on the Interstate; zooming by at seventy when the speed limit says sixty, weaving in and out of traffic, desperate to be the first to arrive at wherever it is they are going. Insulated in their self absorbed opinions of what would generate their own happiness, they can’t seem to see that it isn’t what their neighbors do that makes them unhappy, nor the appearances of their environment, but that something deep inside has not been nourished; the human bonding of care and concern for each other. Good article Grainne, and very thought provoking.

  3. I have another Woody Guthrie Song for you Karla: “Little Boxes” it seems to sum up that sentiment.
    I have been accused of being “east coast” as if that is a bad thing because I am loud, and not afraid to say what I mean, although I was born and raised in California. I am sad to say Californians universally behave in this secretive manner. Maybe it’s the looking the other way because of immigration, maybe it’s because our ancestors came west to escape a lot of the time…I don’t know. I do know the poorer the neighborhood, the more you will know and support your neighbors. It’s a strange annomoly which I think needs changing.

  4. I’m very fond of the song, “Little Boxes”, Grainne. The first time i saw the development of look-alike houses while visiting the West Coast, i mentally called them “popcorn” houses. They seemed to spring up like popcorn among the arid hills and rocky cliffs. I made a great many friends in California. It seems to be a state in juxtaposition; an artistic, progressive, visionary crowd and a huddling, nameless, faceless group that lives in boxes.

  5. Karla, the crowd you visited must have been along the coastline because inland Californians are weird….afraid of offending and therefore afraid of speaking their opinions or hearing anyone else’s.

  6. You know your demographics well, Grainne. Most of my time was spent in Mendocino, San Francisco and San Diego. San Diego… there was a city with personality!

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