I share a farm with five other families, a few singles, two cows and lots of chickens. Our farm balances on the crest of suburbia. As in, across the street from our muddy fields lie 600 cookie-cutter homes, almost all built within the past five years.
Back in December, as an expression of neighbourly cheer and communal togetherness, we decided to go Christmas carolling in this brand-spanking-new neighbourhood. We put up flyers on neighbourhood mailboxes and invited them for hot apple cider before and after the wassailing.
The first two homes we approached proved very promising. We belted out Frosty the Snowman with gusto and the children laughed and the moms’ eyes sparkled.
This was such a good idea! We would be like pied pipers spreading neighbourly affection! This was sure to become a cherished neighbourhood tradition and all our neighbours would sing our praises because we had started it!
The next string of houses proved not so promising. People opened their doors a crack and then slammed them shut. Some peeked out their front door windows and then walked away without a smile. The saddest moment came when we met a woman on the sidewalk. She emerged from her car, donning party clothes and had a gift in hand. As our paths crossed, someone in our group started singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas and we all joined in. In response, this woman tucked her chin into her chest, stared straight down at the ground and sped past us, ducking into the house without a glance or smile. Our voices died out like a record player that had been unplugged.
Our hearts began to sink into our toes.
The kids in our group started asking hard questions, and we adults puzzled over an answer. Was it our song choice? But, we were singing the classics. Were we so out of touch with current cultural taboos that we hadn’t realized that Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer was politically incorrect?
This whole evening, which we’ve come to call The Great Christmas Carolling Fiasco, made anthropologists out of all of us. What was the problem here? Was it because we were trying to do something “religious” in secular Canada? Was it generational? Had all these people imbibed the Internet’s culture of anonymous rudeness? Did they think we wanted something? Did they just like the lights of Christmas and the scrubbed TV version of togetherness, but didn’t really value the kind of community that requires inconvenience?
It would be easy at this point to veer off into a rant. There’s a lot of fodder in this story for a great rant, but I’d rather inspire change than guilt.
So instead, I’ve been thinking about the multitude of small, everyday ways we can dare to love our neighbours.
Studies show that those who know their neighbours are quantifiably happier. Neighbourhoods that are socially connected through authentic friendships experience less crime. In these sorts of neighbourhoods the vulnerable are cared for—soup and muffins arrive on the doorsteps of the sick, casseroles on the doorsteps of the new moms, listening ears are offered to the suffering.
These are the sorts of neighbourhoods Women Who Love are called to create.
Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with—some radical, some simple—that will help foster communities where people thrive.
- Get to know your neighbours really well. If you like them, suggest you take down the fence separating your yards.
- Plant a garden in your front yard rather than your back.
- Give away portions of your garden’s bounty in a “Free” box near your front sidewalk.
- Start an online forum for your neighbourhood as a way to share ideas, skills, food, and more. Read this amazing story about how a couple got to know their entire neighbourhood and how their neighbours cared for each other in practical ways as a result of being connected online.
- Plant fruit trees in your front yard. Place a little “Help Yourself” sign near the trunks of the trees when fruit is ripe.
- Take a walk through your neighbourhood every day.
- Plant a “willow igloo” in your front yard and invite neighbourhood children to play in it.
- Buy something in common with a few neighbours (perhaps a pair of hedge clippers? a lawn mower? a canoe? female and male kiwi trees?)
- Invite someone to live with you.
- Have your children draw a map of your neighbourhood. Label the houses with all the names of neighbours they know. Make it a challenge to add a new name every month.
The possibilities are endless. What has worked in your neighbourhood, SheLovelys?