Being a Good Neighbor is a Choice

  • Published: Friday, July 9, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Researchers and authors have used a variety of terms to describe the state of neighboring in America. 

“Some now refer to American neighborhoods as having a smile and wave culture,” said David Burton, county engagement specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “Others have said that we have moved away from neighboring because we have developed a culture of privacy.”

Some blame the change on things like architecture, neighborhood design, busy schedules, and the growth and expansion of social media. 

Another impact on neighboring, according to Burton, is the rise of individualism and the choice that many Americans make to isolate themselves or go things alone. 

These factors elevate our feelings of loneliness which diminishes our desire to interact with our immediate neighbors. 

“No matter what we assign blame to for the decline in neighboring and the rapid increase in loneliness, we must recognize the decision to be a better neighbor is a choice,” said Burton.

The decision to be a better neighbor is a grassroots movement that requires a change of heart.

“If we do not take the responsibility ourselves, but instead assign neighboring efforts to local government or park board or any agency, it almost always ends in failure,” said Burton.

According to Pew Research, people are not as neighborly as they were 50 years ago, so you aren't alone if you don't know your neighbors. 

“It doesn't seem to be that people don't want to know their neighbors as much as they have so little time to spend and so many ways to spend it,” said Burton.

According to Burton, standing outside talking to someone for 15 or 30 minutes can feel like it really cuts into time that could be spent chatting with friends on a game, binge-watching a television series, or perusing social media. 

Why would you want to spend time chatting with neighbors? 

Good health is a great reason. Research shows that in the same way food, alcohol, and cigarettes can impact our health, so can our neighbors' absence or presence of social ties.

“If you know your neighbors, you will either trust them or you won't, but you are more likely to trust the people you've taken time getting to know,” said Burton.

Here are for basic considerations to get you started.

1. Care about your neighbors. Learn your neighbors' names, use their names, and throw nice partiers. You can also make other decisions to build relationships.

2. Go for a walk in your neighborhood and wave when a car passes you. Look for people sitting on their porches, and wave to them, even saying, "Hello!"

3. Observe the boundaries. Be inviting but not overwhelming. If you see a neighbor out, it's great to greet them, but if you make it so they can't get away, they'll probably not be as friendly in the future.

4. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Would you want someone to let you know if parking the wrong direction on a street might result (in a ticket)? Instead of assuming the worst, reach out and hope for the best — a good relationship.

MORE INFORMATION

Neighboring is the art and skill of building relationships with the people who live in the closest proximity to you. Being a good neighbor offers tremendous health benefits, leads to reductions in crime, reduces loneliness, improves communities, and improves your quality of life.

University of Missouri Extension is at the forefront of a national movement that recognizes the importance of neighboring in community development. MU Extension is offering classes like "Neighboring 101" and "Becoming an Engaged Neighbor" along with two annual neighboring events as a way to raise awareness and encourage others to focus on neighbors.

To learn more about our "Engaged Neighbor" program or the impact of neighboring, go online to https://extension.missouri.edu or contact David Burton by email [email protected] or telephone at (417) 881-8909. "Becoming an Engaged Neighbor" can also be found on Facebook.
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Writer: David Burton

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