by Larry Johnson
Reprinted from “The San Antonio Express-News,” Dec. 26, 2020.
(Editor’s Note: Larry Johnson is an author and motivational speaker. He is available to offer powerful inspirational talks or conduct small group diversity training seminars via the Internet. You may reach him via email at [email protected].)
Are you comfortable enough to borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbors? Do you even know their names?
Most houses today do not have front porches; that’s where folks used to sit and wave to neighbors as they passed by while keeping an eye on kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalk.
We do our socializing inside or in the backyard with family or those few friends or neighbors we may have invited. We belong to the neighborhood homeowners’ association, but only see our neighbors once a year at the association meeting — the 20 percent who show up.
We became virtual hermits in our homes long before COVID-19. And now that we’re being told to “keep our distance” and stay home, we want to rebel. Human beings are a funny bunch, aren’t we?
Several years ago, on a Sunday autumn afternoon, I was listening to a football game on the radio when the power went out. No problem; I switched to my battery-operated radio. About a half-hour later, I got a phone call from my daughter who lived in Schertz.
“Where are you?” she asked with concern.
“I’m right here at home listening to football.”
“Dad!” she said. “You have to get out of there. There’s a huge grass fire in the field right behind your house.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“It’s on the TV news! I’m coming to get you.”
Twenty minutes later, she pulled up in my driveway, hustled me into her car, and we drove away.
“The police didn’t want to let me through the gate,” she said. “They said they had evacuated the neighborhood.”
“Well, not me,” I replied. “I guess maybe I need to get to know my neighbors.”
And so I did. That Christmas, I visited the neighbors across the street and on either side of me and gave them plates of Yuletide cookies and my card with my phone number — just in case there should be another grass fire and neighborhood-wide evacuation.
They’ve become a whole lot more neighborly. They say hello when they see me walking my dog. They keep an eye on my house when I’m out of town and occasionally have even mowed my lawn when the grass has gotten too tall.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of getting to know our neighbors is the extra home protection. Because your neighbors know your regular comings and goings, they are more likely to notice if someone is suspiciously lurking around.
Creating and maintaining a friendly relationship with your neighbors can come in handy. Whether you need to borrow a ladder or you’ve run out of dishwashing detergent, your neighbors can come to the rescue. A neighborhood benefits when its members actively trust, include and cooperate with one another. To do that, we have to engage with each other.
Having trust in our neighbors might also be good for our physical health. A University of Missouri study found that people who perceive their neighbors as trustworthy also rate their own health as better than those who don’t.
Despite our digital connectivity with others via Facebook, FaceTime, texting and other social media, studies show that loneliness rates have doubled since the 1980s, from 20 percent to 40 percent.
So perhaps neighborliness could be an untapped solution to the problem of loneliness. If you’ve got good neighbors, give thanks. If not, perhaps it’s time you get to know them. Bake some cookies and take some next door.
And that’s how I see it.