This week I’ve been thinking about neighbours. How important being a good neighbour is, how good local community creates a safer place, how being a good neighbour is like any relationship in that it takes time to grow, how our society has changed in a few short years but most importantly the beauty of neighbours.
Looking Forward by Looking Back
Like so many of us my idea and ideal of being a good neighbour springs from my childhood.It might be a little bit of fantasy but I think this ideal developed during those years is a pretty good thing to aim for.
I grew up in a country town. A regional centre. My father after returning from the war had bought a block of land and built his own house. It was the time of the post war baby boom and so our street was full of children. There was my friend Wayne who lived on the corner with his aunt and uncle. His father worked away so he was cared for by his relatives. Next door were the Clarke family. Reg and Beryl and their kids. Next to them was Daphne and her older children. Further down the road were the Verrender family and the Blay family. As children we played in the front yard or in the street. We had our school friends come and play at our house and we would go to their place to play. In a way the children brought the street together. Parents often got to know each other through children.
During these years my parents displayed what a good neighbour is. When new people moved in nearby they would greet them and begin to build a relationship with them. I remember, when I was a teenager, a Vietnamese family moved in next door. Dad got to know them and would swap video films with them. They got to learn about John Wayne and Dad got martial arts movies with subtitles. He was losing his hearing so movies with subtitles were easy for him.
There were the times when mum and dad would let Daphne stay at our house when her husband came home inebriated. Just to keep her safe. She would return home when he had a chance to sober up. He showed that neighbours look after one another.
A good neighbourhood relationship can survive some low periods. For us it was the poisoning of a hedge. I’ll get back to that later. For now let’s look a little deeper at the beauty of neighbours.
Why Did Things Change?
Today things are quite different. Neighbours don’t seem to know each other in the way they once did. I don’t think this is looking back through rose coloured glasses. Children don’t play in their front yards the way they once did. Most of us don’t even know the first name of our neighbours. Once we come home from work we might take the dog for a walk or go out and exercise but we don’t spend the same amount of time outside the house we once did. This has really changed how we act as neighbours.
I feel this change is for a number of complex reasons. There have been some major social changes since I was a child including the freedom both parents now have to go and work, the impact of technology such as television, mobile phones, electronic devices etc. Our world and society have changed but that doesn’t mean we need to stop being good neighbours. It just takes more effort. And there are some good examples of people who are really top neighbours.
Des and Ray
When we first moved to a rental property a few years ago our new neighbour called in on our moving day. Des only stayed for a few minutes. Just enough time to say hello and drop off his business card. He was retired and the card gave us his phone number and informed us he was a Justice of the Peace.
After a few short months we moved to a house we had just bought. Our new neighbour Ray spent most of his time in the front yard and was always tinkering with some project or another. He was chatty and so we got to know them very quickly. Not so long ago Ray helped me out in changing a battery in a car we were selling. I knew he fiddled with cars and so when I couldn’t remove a clip he was the person to go to. The important thing is if he hadn’t taken the time to chat to me I probably would not have known about his interest in cars.
It’s reaffirming when you find that there are still neighbours who do things just because that is what neighbours do.
An easy way to get to know neighbours in a relaxed setting is a street party or neighbourhood get together. These are simple to arrange. Select a date, print off invitations, place them in letterboxes and wait. We’ve had a couple of these and they are fun. A little party to help build that important neighbour relationship. Our next step is to block off our cul de sac and have a bit of a get together for Christmas or other occasion. One suburb in our city does a great neighbourhood event at halloween. Everyone decorate their houses and yards. They even place spiderwebs over council drains. They all welcome trick or treaters.This takes a bit of organsing but makes the suburb a good place to be.
Neighbours as First Responders
Disaster often brings out the true beauty in neighbours. The first responders in any disaster event are not authorities but neighbours. Those neighbours who hose down their neighbours house if fire is nearby, those who welcome neighbours into their house after a cyclone if they have a generator and their neighbours don’t, those who left notes in neighbours letterboxes offering help during COVID-19 lockdowns, those who organised dinner in the driveway during lockdowns so other neighbours could still get together by celebrating dinner at the same time even though it was in their driveways and those who organised front porch concerts during lockdowns just to lift spirits. These all show the true beauty of neighbours.
Back to that Hedge
As my father got older he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. This certainly explained some of his increasingly odd behaviours. At one point he was convinced his neighbour, Reg had stolen some of his tools. It is more likely that he had misplaced them in his large and messy workshop. But he was convinced. So, he poisoned Reg’s hedge as an act of revenge. Fortunately, the years of being a good neighbour helped to get through this rough patch and we remained in a good neighbourly relationship with them.
Being a good neighbour is a beautiful thing. It isn’t hard but just takes a little effort and to build that important relationship.