Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Be a Good Neighbor

This week, I'd like to highlight a couple of thoughts that I believe comprise some of the largest differences between metropolitan (Yes! I thought of a different word for urban) living and its inevitable rural counterpoint.

The first point lies at the heart of rural life on the farm and ranch: meeting and talking with your neighbors. I find beautiful simplicity in this every day occurrence.  In fact, over labor day weekend this September, I was able to witness first hand what good neighbors are. Your mind is probably racing towards a time when one of your neighbors speedily and faithfully came to your rescue in a time of need.  Trust me, I've heard and seen plenty of those times during my visits to rural America.  Country folks are especially known this fact, even among the urban population.  This is one of their most redeeming qualities, friendly and caring. However, that's not the point of my thoughts today.  Instead, I'd like to highlight a small nuace of rural life and what it means to be a good neighbor.

Growing up in a keenly suburban area, I can not say that our neighbors and neighborhood was unfriendly in any way.  I had many friends from the neighborhood growing up and I observed my mother routinely trade small talk with a good portion of our neighbors.  I'd estimate these average conversations at about 2-4 minutes.  Just enough time to ask how everyone's day or week had been and to exchange some friendly niceties.  Our family watched as people came and went around us, each time becoming friendly with a new family or couple that came into our small world.  I could probably describe myself as having a completely "normal" childhood in a small western city. 

Fast-forward 10 years to my current circumstances living out my life in Dallas, TX.  Since living in Dallas, I have experienced just about all city life has to offer: living at the outer perimeter of suburbia,  taking up residence in a posh high rise at the urban center of Dallas, residing in a small home in an older urban neighborhood as well as observing my fiancee's life in a neighborhood of small acreages lying at the city limits of Dallas. What a change from my small western city.

I currently only know the names of two of my neighbors and could not begin to name most anyone else residing on my street.  I do not overly extend myself to reach out to them because it does not fit within the expected system of urbanity.  Is it a lack of friendliness or good will?  Probably not.  Most likely, it is just the urban mind-set.  I mind my own business and you go about your daily routine.  We each try to be friendly in an effort to be good people but effectively try to stay out of people's lives.  Neighbors make it a point to share a friendly wave and say hello when we are able, but rarely exchange more than a passing glance with one another.  In fact, this an even better situation than existed in the urban high rise where I felt no need to reach out to someone living less than 50 feet down the hall from me.  In fact, I never truly met any of my neighbors while living there.

First and foremost, I can be faulted for some of this behavior.  I'm somewhat shy until you know me, then turn a quick 180 once I've accepted you into the "circle of trust".  But honestly, I'm just doing what urban people do and looking out for my own circumstances.

In stark contrast exists rural America, known for lending a helping hand  (truly an American ideal no matter where you live).  But, that's not the point here.  The difference is in taking the time to share, listen and debate.  I mentioned that I witnessed first hand what a "good neighbor" is over the labor day weekend this september.  You may ask why?  Well, amidst all the action and commotion of trying to band, brand and vaccinate the last set of late calves, a neighbor stopped by in passing.  What did we do? We stopped what we were doing right in our tracks! What!  We've got things to do, tasks to accomplish, daylight is wasting!

The two farmers (my future father-in-law) and their neighbor to the east stopped and chatted.  They took the time to make sure one another's family was doing well, talked a little shop on cattle prices and enjoyed the surprise of a recent infux of moisture.  The neighbor even took time to notice me, address me and ask what I had planned for my life.  Take pause and realize what a wonderful moment this was on an impressionable young man.  Urban life has a hard time grasping the fact that someone living 5 miles away is even considered a neighbor, and this older gentleman took the time to get to know someone standing in the background trying to stay out of the way.

Urban and suburban life does not take time for this simple pleasure.  It does occur in different arenas such as church or ball games, but rarely in passing.  Observing the agricultural community has granted a number of opportunities to watch a simple hello turn into an hour long conversation, the entirety of which I spent concerned over how much fence was left to build.  I've been told that not to take the time for your neighbors is considered rude and should be avoided at all times possible.

Time and human connection is important on a face to face basis.  Metropolitan life is lacking here.  Engaging people is important for any number of social and philosophical reasons.  Interacting with those living directly next to you is a universal need of humanity.  So, if you're a rural person, keep doing what you're doing because these small country scenes are important to the fabric of our nation.  Otherwise, if you're a rural person living the city life, share your upbringing and be a good neighbor.  Take the time to WOW a neighbor by listening, caring and discussing.  Once they are wowed, gently sneak in your rural roots and help them understand with why rural people matter in the modern urban age.

1 comment:

  1. I think you're picking up on generational/class differences more than urban/rural ones. My parents (and my fiance's) grew up in the same neighborhoods their parents and grandparents lived in (in working class/immigrant Philly and Wheeling), with predictably tight communities. My family lost all connections except blood as we moved around the country for my dad's job, while my fiance's family established connections in a new town by becoming actively involved in church and volunteerism.

    According to Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, this decline of community ties has been a trend in the U.S. since the 60s.

    At any rate, I agree we need to go out of our way to establish the neighborhoods we want to live in.