There is a “Neighboring Gap” going on in our country. As opposed to previous generations, many people don’t know their neighbors. They’ll almost brag that they don’t know the people who live next door. I wonder if this is a “trickling down” of the philosophy over the past several years that our country didn’t need other countries. Now most people are seeing that we do need other countries, and we are part of the world community. We are also part of our local communities and can’t just ignore our neighbors.
Recently, neighbors saw a Halloween decoration of an imitation man on a porch in Marina del Rey. They walked past this decoration for five days before it was discovered that it wasn’t a Halloween decoration, but was actually their neighbor who had died on his porch. I might not be the most observant person in the world, but I think after at least a couple of days of walking by, I’d be able to tell the difference between a Halloween display and my neighbor.
One of the neighbors said, “He looked fake. It looked like somebody had thrown a dummy over the back of a chair.” So this guy who lived nearby was so unfamiliar with his neighbor that he thought he looked like a dummy? He couldn’t tell the difference between him and a bunch of rags stuffed into some clothes? I think that the reason he didn’t look real to this neighbor and the reason other neighbors ignored what they saw is that they didn’t slow down to look. It’s a case of “social isolationism,” or “I don’t know my neighbors, it’s none of my business, and I don’t want to get involved.”
I don’t claim to be a perfect citizen or expect anyone else to be perfect, but you’ve got to admit this incident is pretty shocking. What would have to happen on that block for neighbors to pay attention? In the summer, would they think, “Oh, that’s just a Fourth of July display.” If they walked past an exploding car would they say to themselves, “I don’t want to get involved.” What if they saw the guy down the block loading a missile launcher with a SCUD? Would they stop if they saw their neighbor giving a shower to his new pet elephant?
We’ve all heard other stories of neighbors not getting involved. People step over bodies on the sidewalk, ignore screams, and drive past accidents. Are they really so busy that they can’t stop? What’s the difference if they get to Starbucks a few minutes later? They’ll still be able to get their grande mocha soy latte or whatever. Maybe they think they don’t have the time to go to the police station. They’ve got the time. They can always TiVo “America’s Biggest Loser.” It has nothing to do with how busy they are. They just don’t want to get involved.
There are plenty of reasons to get to know your neighbors. They can water your plants and take in the newspaper when you’re out of town. They can use the key you gave them to let your kid in your house when he’s lost his. They can recommend a plumber that they’ve used when your bathroom is flooded with 2 feet of water. They can give you all kinds of juicy gossip, which you can choose to listen to or ignore. If they’re older, young neighbors can look in on them. If you’re young, older neighbors can baby-sit for your kids. Neighbors can watch each other’s houses and call the police if they see something suspicious. You can discuss local schools with them or why that car has been parked around the corner since 1992.
But the biggest reason to get to know your neighbors is because they are your neighbors. We live in a community just as the United States exists in a community of nations. So the next time you see her, smile at that woman who lives down the block. Bring over some cookies to the people next door. Pretend that you like that garage door that the people across the street just painted orange. It really doesn’t take that much of an effort to be a good neighbor. Besides, would you really like to be mistaken for a dummy?
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.