Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Random Acts of Neighborliness

I got this question in the comments section of my recent post, Tis the Season to Invite People Over, so I wanted to address it here.

We've been trying so hard to get our neighbors together but for some reason, we feel we are the only ones to want to cultivate relationship with all of them. We keep making dates with all of our closest neighbors, then each set, only to have the majority cancel last minute (or move away). I wonder what we could do to make it less intimidating. Any thoughts?

Though it doesn't seem like it should be the case, people often (whether intentionally or unintentionally) display resistance when you try to reach out to build community in your neighborhood.  Sometimes, people just feel intimidated by the daunting prospect of getting to know someone new.   Sometimes people are just too busy to make any extra effort to hang out.  And, sometimes, people simply don't trust the motives of a random stranger trying to reach out.  Whatever the case, I think it's very common nowadays to encounter resistance when trying to build community.  It is still my belief, however, that people want to know and be known.  How can you get past these barriers to connecting?

Here are my thoughts on reaching out in a less intimidating way:

1) Offer to lend a hand.  When we first moved into our neighborhood our car battery unexpectedly died and we had to push our car out of our driveway to get it jumped by a friends' vehicle.  A mom who happened to be playing with her kids across the yard came over to help us push our car into the street.   We bonded over the challenging task at hand, and while she was helping us, she mentioned that her teenage daughter babysits.  We have now hired her daughter a few times to babysit our kids.  When we see her daughter coming home from a date or going out for a study group we say "hi" and stop to talk.   In other words, from her simple act of kindness, a relationship has since formed.

2)  Give gifts.  If you happen to enjoy making jam, or chocolates, or cookies, share them with your neighbors.  If the box of organic fruits you bought is too big, and half will go bad, offer half to your neighbor down the hall.  Often when people are not open to getting to know you, this simple gesture of goodwill opens the door.

3) Invite others over for spontaneous get-togethers.  When people are non-committal, this is a great way to go.  If you have an extra cup of coffee in the morning and you know that there is a mom two houses over who also has a toddler playing peacefully in the living room- invite her over to share your cup of Joe with you.   When you see people heading in their doors from a long day of work, say you'd love it if they stopped by later in the day for some dessert or some wine and cheese.

4) Spend time outside when you can.  If you have a place to set up a dining space on your patio or if your apartment complex has a courtyard- use the space to set out a meal.  Play catch with your kids in the front yard.  

5) Set up barters and trades.  If you have a community garden and you grew too many zucchinis offer to trade some fresh zucchini for the chance to borrow your neighbor's lawn mower.  Pass on your children's hand me down toys and clothes.  Don't hold onto items you know you don't use, but freely give them, knowing that when you build a community where items are traded and shared- you will not be in want when there's something you need.

So, those are just some of my ideas.  What others do you have?

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