A basic component of loving where you live is building relationships in your neighborhood. But this is not easily done. We are fighting the isolationism that is common in modern American neighborhoods. The classic example of this isolation is when neighbors drive home from work, hit the garage door opener, pull in, and then close the garage door behind them. They then spend their evenings indoors or in a back yard surrounded by privacy fences. As a result, most neighborhood relationships are extremely superficial. Transforming relationships will have to be more than a friendly smile and a wave when you happen to spot your neighbor on the other side of the street.
So how do we answer this challenge? For me an important answer is in my neighborhood mantra, “Walk, don’t wave.” When you see your neighbor, the normal neighborhood practice may be to smile and wave, but don’t do it! 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 not know what to talk about –but go ahead and try. You might even get advice on lawn care or get a referral for a plumber!
This simple practice of engaging with others begins with a commitment: When you see someone, don't just wave, instead walk to greet the person. These tips will help you get started:
- If you don't know the person already, start by introducing yourself and learning their name. Names go a long way to building relational bridges. I write down names as I learn them (or I forget and that is awkward!)
- Be prepared to share a few facts about yourself and ask safe questions about them. Focus on facts first. How long they've lived in the neighborhood, where they are from, where do they work are good places to start.
- If you already know the person, simply take an interest in their life. Practice asking the question in a way that draws out a genuine response, not just the stereotypical "fine." For example: "What have you been up to?" "How's work going 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 of interest in others is where real friendship, the art of neighboring, begins.