It seems that long gone are the days of leaving your front door unlocked, knocking on an unfamiliar neighbor’s door to borrow just about anything, or even asking your neighbor to keep an eye on the children while they play in the front lawn. What it means to be neighborly in our society has shifted due to a tremendous rise in crime, class division, media influence, and an urgent need for privacy. The change brings about the question of whether or not our cultural beliefs and understandings play a role in this, and whether or not now is the right time to turn a deafening ear to those we share our subdivisions, blocks, and basements.
At the very least, your neighbor knows a bit of your routine. Even without knowing your name, or maybe without realizing they even know it, a neighbor can become aware of the schedule you keep. They see you on your way to work in the morning, watch you unload groceries from the trunk of your car in the driveway, or cross paths with you as you are changing a load of laundry in a shared laundry room. In 2011, what does it mean to be neighborly? It’s practically impossible to become oblivious to those who live right next to you, but it doesn’t necessarily mean an automatic violation of privacy.
The media tends to paint a picture that all neighbors are as close as the sitcom personalities of King of Queen’s Doug and Deacon, or constantly up to date on each other’s lives like the women of Real Housewives. How does this portrayal of exaggerated neighborhood friendliness work for or against what a neighbor
should truly be?
Some argue that being a good neighbor in today’s world ensures lower crime rates, less threat of kidnappings in our neighborhoods, and the idea that if we truly know the men, women, and children that live around us, then we have a certain safeguard against a complete stranger who wants to harm us.
The true definition of what it means to be neighborly varies when you take into consideration background, preference, and personality.
Dana Middleton, an artist, wife, and mother, living in the Kansas City, MO area feels that over time the role of a neighbor has changed significantly. “I really miss the days where neighbors knew one another’s names, and looked out for each other. I think with the distance created by online social networking, we don’t feel as great a need for neighborhood intimacy. We no longer trust anyone.
It certainly contributes to the demise of the community that we once knew.” In some cases, this can be very true. Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped at the age of 11 and held captive for over 18 years, serves as a perfect argument for why knowing who lives amongst you can highlight any suspicious behavior that might be going on. Perhaps the number of years the kidnappers kept Dugard captive could have been severely minimized, if someone had not felt that crossing a personal boundary into his or her neighbors’ affairs was the wrong thing to do.
Into today’s world, we constantly see Amber Alerts flash across the screen, read of a neighborhood plagued with a serial rapist, or hear about the victims of identity theft. With new technology and public access to profiles, we all seem to be at a higher risk of having our personal lives and information exposed, but as human beings, we have to find the balance between knowing when to pry and when to mind our business.
Emeka Nosiri, a Kansas City, MO, native now residing in Columbus, OH reflected on the importance of the relationship between family and neighbors. “Growing up, I knew all of my neighbors and our families had great relationships. I can’t say I feel the same way about it now. I couldn’t tell you the name of a neighbor I’ve had in the past eight years. Seems like being neighborly is more of a “family” based relationship. If your kids don’t play together or go to the same school, then there isn’t a reason for that type of interaction.”
Some argue that there is an absolute need for that type of relationship, but others leave the image of a family oriented base for the town of Mayberry, or the perfect corner store nestled at the end of Sesame Street. To have and be a good neighbor may constantly take on a different look depending upon where you live and who you are.
While one parent may find it supportive when a neighboring parent is willing to take the children off her hands while they play outside, another may see this as a negative opportunity to befriend what could be a potential pedophile. A harsh reality yes, but an obvious indicator that our protective nature, which causes us to shun the idea of getting too close to those around us, is because we value our families and listen to those protective instincts.
Growing up, I knew every family on my block. As children, we played outside together for hours and spent time in one another’s homes, playing, laughing, and learning. I realize now that this occurred because we all embraced the same community; we bettered one another by caring for the same street, supporting the same schools, and our families pushing towards a common goal. Values and times have changed.
I value my privacy, and often bid my passing neighbors a good morning, or make small talk about the weather, but I regard my fellow neighbor simply as someone that I must naturally respect in terms of space and privacy. Time and experience taught me that you could know someone your entire life before realizing that you don’t know them at all, and this is something we can say about both those close to us, or perfect strangers.
I believe that our purpose in encountering one another in close quarters as neighbors, as people, is not to impose upon any one person’s practices or beliefs, but to have an understanding of balance. We can know one another in a civil enough manner to rally together in the face of tragedy and triumph, but day in and day out, we are simply as close as we allow one another to be without jeopardizing our comfort and our morals.