Why we no longer neighbor

  • Published: Monday, Nov. 15, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Many Americans recognize that relationships with neighbors are different today than 20 or 30 years ago.

One study from the Harvard Medical School shows that 50 years ago, neighboring was talked about in terms of social relationships, but today it is spoken of in terms of etiquette. Specifically, things like "be quiet and leave me alone."

"People seem to have their favorite theory about why things have changed. I've heard the blame placed on things like fenced yards, homes without front porches, too much indoor entertainment, electric garage doors, and even air-conditioning," said David Burton, a community development specialist with University of Missouri Extension. "But those are all external sources of blame, while the actual responsibility rests with each of us and our choices."

Because of research over the past decade, Burton says that we now know that there are four primary reasons why American's do not exercise hospitality with their neighbors as much: loneliness, busyness, retreat mentality, and entertainment focus.

Being lonely can cause people to interact less with those around them.

"It seems contrary to what you might think, but you do not reach out to others if you are lonely and often say no to social invitations. We currently have an epidemic of loneliness in America," said Burton.

The second factor is busyness. American's love to be busy but busy schedules do not leave enough margin in our lives for interaction with neighbors.

"We complain about being busy, but at the same time, we love to tell people we are busy. Being busy makes us feel important. We take on too many tasks, we sign our children up for too many activities, and we clutter our schedule with things seven days a week," said Burton.

Our retreat mentality is the third factor. "I just want to go home and relax" is a verbal example of this. Or, as someone recently told Burton, "My home is my retreat, and I don't want anyone to bother me there."

"Our home can be our safe place but using it as a fortress of solitude is not healthy," said Burton.

And the fourth identified factor is our focus on entertainment.

"We buy larger televisions, connect them to the internet, and entertain ourselves until we fall asleep. We sit and watch Netflix and play video games until bedtime. The average American watches 3.1 hours of television per day. No wonder we don't have time for neighbors," said Burton.

The answer to all four of these factors rests with us and our choices. The city or the county government cannot fix it, and neither can your homeowner's association.

By ignoring neighbors, Burton says you are giving up your social capital and putting your physical and social health at risk along with the health of our community and your nation. Yes, the impact of reduced social interaction is that serious.

"Now that you know why we do not neighbor, it is time to start taking a few simple steps to change course. Be intentional about being outside. Watch and speak to neighbors that you see. And take steps to learn and use the names of your neighbors. That is the starting line so get on your mark," said Burton.

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

Media Contact

David Burton
417/881-8909

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