Neighboring Has Both Personal and Community Benefits; Real Community Improvement Occurs One Neighbor at a Time

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — How well do you know your neighbors? Can you name each of the neighbors that adjoin your property or apartment? Do you know a personal fact about each one? Do you speak to your neighbors?

It turns out that less than two percent of Americans can say yes to all three of these questions.

“Meantime, our culture is becoming angrier and much less forgiving. We are more isolated. Part of the reason is that we have forgotten the art of neighboring,” said David Burton, county engagement and community development specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

Neighboring does take some effort and time. It requires some purposeful planning. But it should be a priority and there are both personal and community benefits according to Burton.

“I am not saying that you try to be neighborly to everyone in town,” said Burton. “However, what would your town look like if you made an effort to be neighborly to the people next door?”

Your neighbor may be starved for a friend. On the other hand, your neighbor might have amazing skills or insights to contribute to a neighborhood.

The key, Burton says, is to take time to get to know the widow next door, the single mom, the grandparents raising their grandchildren, the new family to the area.

“Yes, people can be challenging. We all have our messes. However, we also need relationships and your neighbors are the perfect place to start,” said Burton.

Current social research is showing that many in American culture suffer from a lack of personal relationships, which leads to isolation, depression, anger and more. Stalking what people are doing on Facebook is not a real relationship.

“There is a lot of new research showing very negative emotional impacts from being on Facebook a lot and seeing the highlights folks post from their life,” said Burton. “What is needed is more neighboring, more mentoring, more face-to-face interaction and understanding.”

Burton says that when he and his wife were young, they lived in a subdivision where he ended up taking on the role of homeowners association president. Then the calls started.

“A resident called saying his neighbor’s dog barked all night and he wanted me go tell the neighbor about the rules violation and to tell him to make his dog stop barking. Imagine how that problem might be better resolved if the neighbors had instead had a relationship by being neighborly,” said Burton.

The same type of situation still occurs, especially in small cities where residents expect the city government to fix their neighbor problems. Residents are quick to call the city about a code violation but never consider helping a neighbor.

“In one example I know about, an overgrown yard was reported and cited with a ticket. It turned out the single mom living there was taking care of her terminally ill mother and the yard was the least of her concerns,” said Burton.

Burton asks, before you call the city about your neighbor’s two-foot-tall lawn have you considered checking on the neighbor and offering to help? Which action would be neighborly? Which actions would result in a strengthened relationship?

Being neighborly is easy to get started, according to Burton.

One great step is to plan a simple get together and invite your neighbors over. Extend an invitation to each neighbor who has a home bordering you (this includes across the street neighbors and back fence neighbors). Get acquainted and work on staying connected.

“You may find that being neighborly not only blesses your heart and shows kindness to others but that it also has the power to improve our community one family relationship at a time,” said Burton.

You can find and download a useful “who is my neighbor” chart on the Greene County MU Extension website at http://extension.missouri.edu/greene.