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Strive to Be Better Neighbors. . .

The cast of the 1970s British situation comedy The Good Life, known in the United States as Good Neighbors.  From left to right Felicity Kendal, the late Paul Eddington, Penelope Keith, and the late Richard Briers.

If there are any super-intelligent lifeforms elsewhere in the universe observing life here on Earth in the second decade of the 21st century for useful tips on how a society ought to function cohesively, they must be chuckling to themselves right about now.  Think about it for a moment.  Even on good days, the news can make it seem like the world has gone mad in places, and that people on one part of the globe or another just can't manage to live together and get along.

It seems, moreover, to be frightfully easy for most of us nowadays to become cut off and even alienated from the people closest to us.  Without a doubt, the decline of community (in all senses) in the last few decades, the more recent rise of technology, and the abundance of various blinking, chirping personal gadgets that now inundate our lives and fill our pockets each contribute in a big way to that palpable sense of isolation, helplessness, and ennui from which many of us suffer or perceive at least.

Average guys who want to kick up their everyday style several notches would do well to stop and consider the issue for a minute.  What happened to our shared sense of community?  Where did it go?  And is it possible to stop the gradual slide to the lowest common denominator of human interaction and recoup at least some community engagement and interaction?  How might we achieve that?  Fostering more solid relations between ourselves on the one hand and our neighbors on the other is a good place to start.  That alone could very well help combat the social isolation that seems to permeate so much of society now and reestablish some sense of community between people, even at the micro level of the neighborhood street or block.

While many in the developed world might argue that they are "wired" and, thus, already highly connected to others, I argue otherwise.  It seems to me that we are, on the contrary, more isolated, cut off, and focused only on our individual selves than ever before.  With that very pointed critique of society in mind, here are a number of ways that average guys might become better friends and neighbors to other people in the era of I-phones, online social media, and  Here's what I suggest:

1) Be friendly.
Let's all try to be a bit more open to others around us.  Don't be afraid to smile and say good morning to someone when you pass that person on the street.  Try a small wave from the front porch as your neighbor across the street enters his or her front door at the end of the day and you do the same.  It can't hurt, and maybe, just maybe, stronger attempts to break out of our own, largely self-imposed, isolation might brighten others' day just a little.  You never know.  Certainly, going through life with a smile on your face and a pleasant word or two for others a bit more often ain't going to kill you, is it?

2) Be kind and considerate.
Likewise, it helps to keep things pleasant between neighbors when we at east try to show some kindness and consideration to each other.  Really.  This kind of thing used to be standard fare, but it seems to have receded into the woodwork in more recent years, so here's what I'd do.  If you've just had a large snowfall in the night, and you observe your neighbors struggling to dig out their car through your kitchen window, grab your boots, gloves, and snow shovel, cross the alley, and offer to help.  Don't expect anything in return.  Do it simply to be gracious and because others need some assistance.

3) Touch base from time to time.
Pick up the telephone, or cross the street, from time to time and say "Hello" to those who live near you.  You needn't feel like you've got to stand on the front porch jabbering for a quarter of an hour or anything, but  see how the couple who lives two houses down or across the hall is doing.  Ask them if you can pick up anything for them if you are headed out to the grocery store.  It might sound funny and intrusive, but I'd be willing to bet that many people would appreciate a quick "Hey, how are you?" and an offer to pick up a liter or gallon of milk.  These are the kinds of very small courtesies that don't require a huge amount of time or effort, but they grease the wheels of life in a most efficient way.  Whatever, you do though, don't quibble over a few pennies if your neighbors don't have exact change when you return with that new container of milk!  Just let it go and continue on your way.

4) Look in on older neighbors occasionally.
By the same token, it is an extremely nice gesture to look in on older neighbors from time to time.    Sadly, too many of these people are alone for one reason or another, and, in the United States at least, it has not been a given that family members live nearby to assist an older relative for quite a few years now.  Most older people are tickled pink (there's that expression again) to chat with a younger person about this and that.  In addition, whether they say it, or not, this kind of neighbor is usually very appreciative (touched even) to have some help around the house or in the back garden once in a while.  And as I've mentioned in a previous post recently, even a few minutes of your time can help an older person feel more involved and like someone cares, which isn't a bad thing at all.  Perhaps if more of us made some attempt to interact with retired and elderly neighbors, more of them might be able to remain in their own homes longer than seems to be the case for too many?  It's just a thought.

5) Lend a willing ear.
Too frequently, it seems, we are in a huge hurry , dashing from this commitment to that activity and back home again to inhale some sustenance while standing over the kitchen sink before rushing out once more to the net thing.  Thanks to that particular way of living, which seems prevalent in 2013, we've got no time for anyone else.  But how about slowing down for a moment and being a bit more receptive when it seems like a neighbor might want to talk for longer than 15 seconds?  I'll be the first to admit that some people are ponderous given the chance.  I also understand that we don't necessarily want to hear a 20-minute monologue on someone's dead goldfish or his or her problems on the job with that new intern.  But you know what?  Sometimes, people just need to talk.  Why not stop and exchange a few kind words with that neighbor before rushing off? 

6) Offer help and assistance in times of need.
Once in a while tragedy strikes: fire, tornadoes, floods, a death in the family, etc.  When there is a neighbor in need, if at all possible, try to help that person.  Don't butt into someone else's life uninvited necessarily, but do offer help should they want and need it.  The form that assistance might take varies, but it could include things like some spare blankets or clothing, extra food, a home-cooked meal, or simply offering to watch the children for a short, well-defined period while your adult neighbors work to salvage their lives and put things in order without distraction.

7) Watch out for others' property and children.
When people are away for several days at a time, say during a long weekend or summer vacation for example, there are at least a few things we might do to to become better neighbors.  How about offering to keep an eye on things, collect and hold the mail, and maybe water the plants while your neighbors are away?  Likewise, if the neighbor kids are playing in the front yard nextdoor, and you happen to be on your porch or working in your own frontyard, keep an eye and ear on things.  No one is suggesting that you become overly involved with the neighborhood children.  Not only has the world become and exceedingly paranoid and weird place nowadays, where too much attention paid to children is likely to result in false accusations of pedophilia coming from someone, but there are many of us (and I am one), who are not even particularly fond of children (much as I love my own).  All I suggest, however, is that an extra pair of eyes and ears can't hurt when it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being our own and our neighbors' children.

8) If a problem arises, be careful how you broach the subject.
Sometimes, depending on what the issue might be, it is simply better to turn the other cheek and ignore minor things that might arise with neighbors.  Of course, things like habitual loud music, drunken parties, spousal abuse, and obvious drug use are something else entirely, and I'd suggest calling the police rather than trying to intervene yourself.  Too much margin for errors in judgment and physical harm.  No, I'm talking about things like noisy children at play in the backyard during the day, an occasional barking dog, or a Christmas wreath or doormat in an apartment or condominium hallway.  Tread very carefully here, and think a long time before you open your mouth.  People are odd creatures, so why risk an unpleasant outburst from someone, which will very probably lead to tension down the road, for something like a few sunflower seed husks that find their way from his birdfeeder to your back deck?  Know what I mean?  Sometimes, it's just better to let things like that go than it is to kick up a fuss and breed hostility between your respective households.

9) Know when to keep yourself to yourself.
This last point is a biggie chiefly because so many people have forgotten how to keep themselves to themselves.  In 2013, the prevailing way of existence, for many people, seems to be in your face, whether it involves their music, behavior, interaction with others, speech, children, to attire or pets, to how often and loudly they come and go from their abodes.  It rarely seems to occur to them that they might very well be stepping on someone's toes, figuratively speaking, in some way.  And woe be to the person who says something like, "Excuse me, but I'd rather you didn't do that again, please."  Many people, inexplicably, forget themselves and do not react well to having an offense they have committed brought to their attention.  The best (and most childish) form of defense is attack after all, and too many people operate that way.  Few seem to be aware of the concept of living a quiet life in which they do not somehow infringe upon others.  The prevailing attitude seems to be, "Too effing bad!  I'll do what I like."  Sadly, we have indeed become that self-centered and inconsiderate.  We might do well, however, to take a page from the poet Robert Frost's book, who concluded his poem Mending Wall with the line, "Good fences make good neighbors."  In other words, be considerate of others and keep yourself to yourself.  It's not hard if you make an effort to become and remain sensitive to others.

There you are.  While there are certainly other things to keep in mind, these nine points will help average guys, who are looking to kick up their everyday style several notches, cultivate better neighborly relations. In no way am I suggesting with the above suggestions that we live in each others' pockets or attach our noses to each others' elbows 24/7.  No one likes, or should have to put up with, a nosy busybody.  But a little more friendly, pleasant, and helpful contact between us average guys and our neighbors might be a good thing.  It could very well help to make our neighborhoods friendlier, more cohesive places and help reverse recent disturbing societal trends.  Think about it.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


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