Week 8: Walk, Don't Wave

You walk outside your door to do something (check the mail, adjust the sprinkler, take out the garbage, carry in the groceries), and you spot a neighbor a few doors down. What do you do? If you respond like 90% of suburban Americans, you smile and wave. Another 9% will add a friendly, "Hey, [Bob, Mary, Man]!" Does this sound familiar? If relationships in your neighborhood are going to thrive, then someone has to take more initiative. Life-giving relationships will have to be more than a friendly smile and a wave from the other side of the street.

For me an important answer is in my neighborhood mantra, “Walk, don’t wave.” When you see your neighbor, don't just smile and wave. Instead make it your practice to walk over to talk for a few minutes. If they are out in the driveway or yard, or out walking the dog, just drop what you are doing and walk across the street. At first you may feel awkward – but go ahead and try. This simple practice of engaging with others can break down the barriers of superficiality and isolation that are so prevalent in our world.

These tips will help you:

  • Most important: Keep it brief! They might be in a hurry to go somewhere, or it might be 110 degrees in the shade, so don't hold people against their will! You could lead with simple comment like, "We haven't talked in a while, and I hope y'all are doing okay." Just pay attention to body language and it's usually clear how much they want to engage.
  • If you don't know their name, embrace that mildly awkward moment and introduce (or re-introduce) yourself and learn their name.  Write down names as you learn them. Share a few facts about yourself and ask a couple of simple questions about them.
  • If you already know the person, simply take an interest in their life. Ask questions that draws out a genuine response, not just the stereotypical "fine." For example: "What have you been up to?" "Any big challenges at work these days?" "What are you doing for fun lately?"
  • As you have multiple conversations with the same person, be sure to follow up with things they have already shared. If someone was sick, ask how the person is doing. If they were going on a trip, or doing something fun, ask how it was. If they had something big happening at work, ask how it turned out.

Taking this kind initiative to show interest in others is where real friendship begins. These simple encounters could lead to more in-depth conversations over a meal or a family activity. But don't miss how relationships can grow with brief, simple, frequent, repeated interactions. You just have to be willing to walk across the street!