neighborliness

Something as simple as the failure to say hello to a passing neighbor can cause friction. Older residents like Ballard are used to being greeted by their neighbors, but newcomers walk past without so much as a nod. “It’s like we don’t exist for them,” Ballard said.

anonymous asked:

Any hybrid(half-animal/half-human) AUs?

• Character A is a cat hybrid and their neighbor, Character B, is a dog hybrid. The two of them are classic neighborly rivals, fighting over whose landscaping is the most beautiful, who throws the best neighborhood potlucks/parties, whose kids are the most succesful, etc.

• After horrible human/animal experimentation, Character A was turned into a bird hybrid. With the help of Character B and Character C, snake and spider hybrids respectively, they were able to escape the lab. Together, the three of them travel across the country, trying to lay low and hide from the police, hoping that they’ll find somewhere safe to live.

• Character A is a deer hybrid that was separated from their herd. After traveling on their own for a while, they get into trouble with a hunter and are wounded badly before escaping. They go as far away as they can before collapsing and waiting for death. Character B, a human, is wandering in the woods when they come across Character A.

• “You’re a depressed fish hybrid trapped in an aquarium and all I can see is how unhappy you look” AU

• “I know I probably look like just another predator or scientist or something that’s going to hurt you, but I promise, I only want to help you and get you off the streets” AU

Why are so many parents being arrested?

By Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, July 21, 2014

This summer has seen a rash of stories of parents being hauled away in cuffs for such sins as letting their kids roam unaccompanied in a park, or keeping them in the car while performing a short errand, or even leaving them alone in their own home for a few hours.

My own childhood seems to have become illegal. I was the son of a single mother. During summers I would explore my neighborhood, visit friends’ houses, walk to a pond to fish, ride my bike from our home in Bloomfield, N.J., to the abandoned lots of Newark, and jump it over curbs. I could be unsupervised from 10 in the morning until 8:30 at night, when the streetlights started coming on. If I was home with my grandmother, sometimes she would leave me alone to do grocery shopping.

As early as 7 years old, I was allowed to walk more than a mile to school. I traveled long commercial streets like Bloomfield Avenue, and went under the overpass of the Garden State Parkway, all during a time when violent crime rates were much much higher than they are today. The worst that ever happened to me was that I got punched in the head by a junkie. But I told my D.A.R.E. officer, spent an afternoon looking at photos of local junkies and ne’er-do-wells, and got over it, having learned the valuable lesson that I could take a punch in the head.

Often during this time, and especially in my own neighborhood, I was being silently and unobtrusively guarded by a community of people, many of whom knew my name, and knew something of my mother’s situation. When I scratched someone’s car with my broken bike handle, I would be returned to my home, and the note explaining it would be addressed to my mother by name. Some of the nosy Italian ladies watched the streets, looking for gossip. But they could help a child who skinned his knee, or bring him inside for a few caramels and a soda if it was raining and the kid had left his key at home.

Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.

Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”

Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:

Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place–assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning. [The American Conservative]

My own childhood community in Bloomfield was then a well-established one composed of descendants of Irish and Italian immigrants, many of us going to the same church on Sunday. There were a few baseline expectations shared by the community about how children should behave in people’s yards or in the streets. People could talk to each other from some shared moral premises.

But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.

The state’s guardianship functions were developed to handle only the most extreme cases of neglect or abuse. The incentives of those within these departments incline them to suspicion and dramatic intervention. “We only get called in an emergency, so this must be one.”

There are two ways to solve the dilemma. The first is a return of those communities, something that seems less likely in an America that is more mobile and more influenced by immigration, which results in constant neighborhood flux. The other is to reform the state’s institutions so that they might actually assist parents–not just punish, shame, and harass them.

Love that Muslim as yourself

Love that Muslim as yourself

There were the usual outpourings of hateful bile on social media soon after the start of the siege at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in central Sydney, but just a little later, a movement based on love also deluged the social space. Through the hash tag #I’ll Ride with You, Australians offered to accompany Muslims who felt threatened as they traveled on public transport.  By late the same evening, that…

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anonymous asked:

What do you think makes Yoshikage Kira an appealing and memorable character for so many people, aside from his stand and his resemblance to David Bowie?

I think it’s the fact that he’s a more realistic sort of evil. Where Dio is the blatantly evil sort of mastermind type villain, Kira’s evil is much more subtle. After all, Kira was able to keep himself hidden as a killer for a very long time. He was a friendly neighborly type guy until you got a little too close to what he was really up to. He definitely has that serial killer vibe to him, and at times I think you sort of felt a little sorry for the guy, even though the reader knows that he’s this awful reprehensible sort of guy.

Being Neighborly Promotes a Healthy Heart

Eric S. Kim, The Bottom Line, November 2014

I lived for a time in an urban environment where most people walked, shopped and entertained themselves locally. People often sat out on their front porches and stoops and chatted. They all knew each other’s business. Most were hearty “old-timers.” I used to chalk up the “hearty” longevity of my older neighbors to good Old World genes, but new research is saying it’s something more. In fact, there may be something more to heart health for everyone beyond genes, diet and exercise. This heart-health booster is something we don’t think about, and yet there it is, right in front of our noses–if we take steps to get it. And this newly proven secret to heart health and longevity is free and not hard to do–all you have to do is be neighborly.

That’s right–just be neighborly to live longer! Here’s why…

We know that negative aspects of physical environments–noise, traffic and pollution–can harm our health. It’s a no-brainer. Even so, scientists have conducted study after study to prove it. But recently, a study by researchers from the University of Michigan took a different tack. It looked at the impact of positive rather than the negative aspects of neighborhood living. The research team wanted to find out whether feeling part of a community, trusting neighbors and feeling safe had an impact on heart health. They called these feelings about community connections perceived neighborhood social cohesion.

Drawing data from the University of Michigan’s ongoing Health and Retirement Study, the researchers identified 5,276 heart-healthy people and followed them for four years. The average age of these folks was 70.

To measure neighborhood social cohesion, researchers asked the participants how they felt about the area within a 20-minute walk or one-mile radius of their homes. These study participants rated how much they agreed with these four statements…

• I really feel part of this area.
• If you were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help you.
• Most people in this area can be trusted.
• Most people in this area are friendly.

Depending on how strongly a participant agreed with each statement, he or she was put into one of four groups–low social cohesion, low-to-moderate, moderate-to-high, or high social cohesion.

During the four-year study period, 148 of the participants had heart attacks. The researchers took this information and sliced and diced it with the data they had collected about neighborhood social cohesion and demographic factors (for example, age, sex, race, marital status, education level and income) of their study population.

When the researchers adjusted data to compensate for the impact of demographic factors on heart attack risk, they found that, compared with people with low neighborhood social cohesion, people with low-to-moderate social cohesion were 34% less likely to have heart attacks and people with the moderate-to-high or high social cohesion were about 45% less likely to have heart attacks.

Those are stunning numbers–you can potentially reduce your risk of heart attack by half by just being neighborly and liking and being involved with where you live.

Although studies have shown that keeping a positive attitude is good for your health, this study is the first to examine how feeling positive about your neighborhood impacts your risk of heart attack. But the results aren’t that surprising, are they? They emphasize the importance of being comfortable, safe and contented in light of what we know about stress and anxiety and heart health. The findings can perhaps be summed up by this proverb: “Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.” When family isn’t close at hand or willing to be supportive, it is a comfort to know that neighbors–people in your community–can provide a safety net for social, emotional and physical needs. And that knowledge, over time, can be a powerful stress reducer.

If you don’t already feel connected to your neighborhood, why not get more involved? If neighbors stroll along the street where you live, sit out in front of your house or apartment and chat with them as they pass. Or visit the local coffee shop, but don’t bury your head in a newspaper, book or laptop. Instead, make a point to strike up conversations with other patrons. Attend an “open mike” at a local bar or restaurant where amateur singers and musicians entertain each other and welcome you to perform as well. It’s a festive way to become part of a community. Join a community center, enroll in an adult-education class or become involved with a local charity or civic cause–and the more local, the better. If you make it a goal, you can definitely make more friends and acquaintances in your neighborhood and therefore feel more connected to it.

When you think about it, these are all just examples of being more open-hearted–and now there’s proof that an open heart is a stronger heart.

Americans give.

There is a parade of  ‘days’ in the US that starts on the last Thursday in November: Thanksgiving, Black Friday (which is also, ironically, Buy Nothing Day!), Cyber Monday, and of course, Christmas Day. A few years ago the US added another ‘day’ – Giving Tuesday, a national day designed to extend generosity beyond family and friends. In this spirit, the local paper published a six page spread…

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On Being Neighborly

By Marcus Brotherton, Art of Manliness, May 23, 2013

Between college and graduate school I took a gap year where I worked in a restaurant, snow skied every chance I got, and tried to figure out the rest of my life. During that year I lived in a big old suburban house near the lake along with five to eight other guys and sometimes one girl.

We had a lot of fun that year. Our driveway was filled with sports cars and motorcycles. We barbecued most meals and played music with the volume set to eleven. At night we climbed onto the roof and smoked cigars, dreaming of our futures. Occasionally we shot off firecrackers, just for the sake of sounding our barbaric YAWP.

One night we were shooting bottle rockets from an upstairs window when a loud knock sounded on the front door. It was our neighbor from across the street, and, boy, was he ticked. His roof was made of cedar shakes, he explained, and he was worried one of our stray bottle rockets would burn his house down. Would we–please!–knock it off.

Sure, sure, we said, and curtailed the activity for the night. We were polite enough to his face. But after he left we agreed among ourselves that our neighbor was only a worried fuddy duddy whose greatest interest in life was spoiling our good time.

Fast forward twenty years.

I have become that neighbor, in many ways. If a gang of young ruffian renters moved in across the street and fired bottle rockets toward my house, I’d certainly go over and politely ask them to knock it off.

Something changes between the days of being a guy and the days of being a man. When it comes to where he lives, an immature man tends to see his neighborhood only as a place to hang his hat. But a mature man sees his neighborhood as a place he helps create.

It’s in every man’s best interest to live in the best neighborhood he can. And by “best neighborhood,” I don’t mean a gated community filled with McMansions. I mean a neighborhood filled with belonging, identity, empathy, understanding, and a strong sense of community.

To do that, you need to become a good neighbor. But how?

A few years back I edited a book called The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door, by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.

The idea for the book began one day in 2009 when Pathak and Runyon gathered a group of twenty leaders to brainstorm ways they could better serve their communities. Bob Frie, mayor of Arvada (one of the cities within the greater Denver area), joined them, and the group asked Frie a simple question: How can we best work together to serve our city?

The ensuing discussion revealed a laundry list of social problems similar to what many cities face: at risk-kids, areas with dilapidated housing, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, elderly shut-ins with no one to look in on them. The list went on and on.

Then the mayor said something that stopped cold the discussion. “The majority of issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”

Read that quote again if you need to. Its ramifications could well affect your life.

Frie explained that neighboring relationships are more effective than civic programs because they are organic and ongoing. When neighbors are in relationship with one another, for instance, the elderly shut-ins get cared for by the person next door, the at-risk kid gets mentored by a dad who lives on the block, and so on.

The group took the mayor’s words to heart. They began a city-wide initiative aimed at helping people learn these ideas and then apply them where they lived. They called their initiative simply: The Art of Neighboring. These are some of the findings from their study.

1. Being a good neighbor begins with a positive, proactive mindset. “The solutions to the problems in our neighborhoods aren’t ultimately found in the government, police, schools, or in getting more people to go to church,” Runyon and Pathak wrote in their book. “The solutions lie with us. It’s within our power to become good neighbors, to care for the people around us, and to be cared for by the people around us.”

That’s where becoming a good neighbor begins. It begins with how a man thinks. Instead of seeing the place he lives only as the place he hangs his hat, he begins to see the place he lives as a place he influences. He knows it’s up to him to make things better.

Author Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point agrees. Exploring the “broken windows” theory first articulated several decades ago, he described how even small things done or left undone in a neighborhood can spur crime rates up or down.

When litter isn’t picked up, when graffiti remains on a wall or fence, when a window is broken but not fixed–these can all communicate that a neighborhood is declining, Gladwell wrote. And when people’s outward environments appear to decline, people tend to respond socially with less care, thus the potential for increased crime.

The opposite is true as well. Just as lapses in signs of care and concern can set off an escalation in deterioration, so can positive actions create a chain reaction of improvement. Thus, a good neighbor’s mindset is focused on how he can influence his neighborhood for the better, and he seeks to address problems while they are still small, nipping them in the bud. He feels a sense of ownership, sees his neighborhood as a reflection of himself, and knows his actions affect others. He begins to be a good neighbor simply and in small ways, undertaking the responsibility of creating an environment that he–and others–will want to live in.

2. The simplest way to become a good neighbor is to smile, wave, and get to know names. I was out for a walk the other morning when I saw a guy walking toward me on the street. I gave him a head nod and said, “Good morning,” as he passed, like I do whenever I meet anyone in my neighborhood. But the young man didn’t even look at me or respond in any way.

He was carrying a backpack bearing the name of our town’s community college, so that gave me a clue to his standoffish behavior. He may have had a test that morning and been focused on what lay ahead. He may have not heard me, or been in a bad mood and simply didn’t want to respond.

But I suspect it was something simpler. I’m not sure his exact age, probably around 18 or 19, but I suspect he was simply thinking more like a child and less like a man.

In this day and age, children are correctly taught never to talk with people they don’t know. If a 44-year-old stranger said good morning to my 10-year-old daughter as she waited for the school bus, I would strongly urge her to ignore him, even to run away.

But adult-aged neighbors need to be re-taught to engage with people they don’t know, at least when it comes to those who live near to them.

The embryo of good neighboring is proactive friendliness. It means initiating a positive interaction with those you come in contact with. The simplest way to do that is to smile, wave, and learn your neighbors’ names. If someone moves in next door, take them an apple pie. If your neighbor goes out of town, offer to watch out for his place while he’s away.

3. Being a good neighbor means you treat others as you want to be treated. Some years back when my wife and I bought our first house, we became fast friends with our next door neighbors, a couple about our age. We’d eat dinner together, we’d talk over the fence, we’d mow our lawns for each other when out of town.

They were the neighbors from heaven.

Then they moved out and another couple moved in. The woman was okay, but the guy was a grade-A jerk. There’s no polite way to say that. He was surly and rude, he made noise at all hours of the night, he held wild parties and left empty beer bottles on his front lawn. Other neighbors would actually complain to us–the people who lived closest to them–asking us to do something about it.

They were the neighbors from hell.

The point is that when it comes to living in close proximity to other people, any number of relational issues can arise. No neighborhood is perfect, and it takes tact, timing, wisdom, forgiveness, boundaries, and at times courage to live alongside of other people.

Still, the best way to create a good neighborhood is to be a good neighbor yourself. As an adult, you might live in a suburban neighborhood, a rural area, or in an apartment in the city, yet wherever you live, the same principle holds true: your actions will affect others, and their actions will affect you.

This means you’re mindful of your actions. You realize you don’t live in a frat house anymore. You keep your music turned to a volume where it can’t be heard outside your walls. You pick up after your dog and keep him on a leash if your yard is unfenced. You carry your trash cans back inside the garage the same day as your trash is picked up.

When it comes to where you live, you help set the tone.

I haven’t talked to Runyan and Pathak for awhile now, so I don’t know all the positive changes that resulted from their initiative. But I do know that word began to catch on about being a good neighbor, and a number of positive stories poured back their way. The initiative has even begun to catch on in other cities and states. The authors have received letters from mayors, city managers, and police officers, describing how the initiative is paying winning dividends.

There were stories of block parties being held, of neighborhood movie nights, of single mothers being helped out with free groceries and diapers, of neighbors who came down with cancer receiving weeks of free meals.

Many of the stories reflected smaller, simple interactions. One man wrote to say that he shoveled the driveway of his neighbors when they were away on vacation. He’d never spoke to his neighbors before, but now they always smile and say hello.

About a year after the initiative began, Runyon and Pathak received an e-mail from their assistant city manager, Vicky Reir, who wrote:

Dave and Jay:

I’ve been working in the city manager’s office for thirteen years. This is the first time that I can remember going through an entire winter without receiving a single request for assistance in shoveling a driveway. No one has asked for help for themselves or an aging parent, not one call. Maybe this is a coincidence, but I wonder if this is because of the neighboring movement. I guess there’s no way to know for sure, but I thought you’d be encouraged.

“When the people who live around each other become closer in their relationships, great things happen,” Pathak and Runyon wrote. “Start now by doing the small things well, and commit to good neighboring as a lifestyle. You have been invited to begin a sacred journey, one that has the potential to change your block, your city, and possibly the world.”

I give thanks for American healthcare

I give thanks for American healthcare

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving – my first. There are many things to give thanks for here in my new neck of the woods. (Is that an American or Australian idiom, I wonder?) The rich history, beautiful architecture, and magnificent mountain scenery. The politeness and consideration that I meet everywhere in public – doors always held open, offers of help that come as soon as I crouch to fill my…

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Love thy neighbour, it’s good for the heart: study

AFP, Aug. 18, 2014

Paris (AFP)–Ever felt like your neighbour’s antics could drive you to an early grave?

Well, there may be reason for concern, said researchers who reported a link Tuesday between having good neighbours and a healthier heart.

“Having good neighbours and feeling connected to others in the local community may help to curb an individual’s heart attack risk,” said a statement that accompanied a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Heart and blood vessel diseases are the number one cause of death globally, claiming some 15 million lives in 2010, according to the latest Global Burden of Disease study.

Research into neighbourhoods and health had in the past focused on negative impacts through factors like fast-food restaurant density, violence, noise, traffic, poor air quality, vandalism and drug use, said the study authors.

For the latest research, the University of Michigan team used data from 5,276 people over 50 with no history of heart problems, who were participants in an ongoing Health and Retirement Study in the United States.

They monitored the cardiovascular health of the group, aged 70 on average and mainly married women, for four years from 2006–during which 148 of the participants had a heart attack.

At the start of the project, the respondents were asked to award points out of seven to reflect the extent to which they felt part of their neighbourhood, could rely on their neighbours in a pinch, could trust their neighbours, and found their neighbours to be friendly.

When they crunched the numbers at the end of the study, the team found that for every point they had awarded out of seven, an individual had a reduced heart attack risk over the four-year study period.

People who gave a full score of seven out of seven had a 67 percent reduced heart attack risk compared to people who gave a score of one, study co-author Eric Kim told AFP, and described the difference as “significant”.

This was “approximately comparable to the reduced heart attack risk of a smoker vs a non-smoker,” he said.

“This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect,” the statement underlined.

The mechanism behind the association was not known, but the team pointed out that neighbourly cohesion could encourage physical activities like walking, which counter artery clogging and disease.

Want to end US poverty? Lets start by banning name-calling

Want to end US poverty? Lets start by banning name-calling

Conservatives and liberals alike understand that handouts alone are not the complete answer to poverty, and that people in poverty must have the chance to use their own efforts to move off the bottom rung of the income ladder as well as immediate assistance with hunger and housing.

Each side has a different take on how to achieve it. The conservative point of view tends toward minimal…

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The end of neighbours

Brian Bethune, Macleans, August 8, 2014

It’s a new day in the neighbourhood all across the Western world. More than 30 per cent of Canadians now say they feel disconnected from their neighbours, while half of Americans admit they don’t know the names of theirs. An Australian sociologist investigating community responses in the wake of the 2011 floods in Queensland found relations in “a precarious balance”; neighbours were hesitant to intrude even in emergencies–leading the scholar to conclude that “we are less likely than ever to know” our neighbours. Quite right, too: A recent poll of 2,000 Britons found a third declaring they couldn’t pick their near neighbours out of a police lineup.

Yet it’s hardly surprising, given how lengthy working days, long commutes and having both parents in the labour force have combined with the way we raise our children to create suburban neighbourhoods that are empty more than half the day, with scarcely a neighbour to encounter, let alone recognize, trust or befriend. But, however powerful the economic and social forces behind the disappearing neighbour–and however positive many of its results–according to reams of new research, the transformation is also poisoning our politics and, quite literally, killing us.

Two new books, The Vanishing Neighbor by Marc Dunkelman, and Susan Pinker’s forthcoming The Village Effect, mine the data and sound loud warnings. The health aspects are alarming enough for Pinker, a Montreal-based developmental psychologist, to have changed her own habits of a lifetime. She argues that humans need face-to-face contact, as they need air and water. We have evolved for it, to the extent that those surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends who regularly gather to eat–and, crucially, talk–live an average of 15 years longer than loners. Quality face-to-face contact is essential for a social species, Pinker writes, citing research that shows it fortifies immune systems, calibrates hormones and increases chances of surviving heart attacks, strokes, AIDS and cancer. “People with the most integrated social lives–overlapping relationships among friends, family, sports and other recreational or religious pursuits–have the best prognoses,” with the most life-threatening diseases. It’s true even with dementia: A 2004 Swedish study found its lowest prevalence among those with the most extensive social networks.

In response, rather than spend evenings at home reading or working, Pinker now swims on a team (group exercise providing “more bang for her buck”) and makes a point of attending more social events. And, crucially, she makes an effort to keep her social circle as wide as possible, consciously replacing friends and neighbours who fade away over time. Bear in mind, Pinker warns, that no matter how much you love and trust your spouse, if he or she is your only confidant–as about 10 per cent of American survey respondents indicate–then you are one person away from no one at all. “Immunologically speaking, you’re almost naked.”

What could be called our social immune system, according to Dunkelman, is also not as robust as it was. The American researcher notes how his country was always organized from the bottom up, from township (or neighbourhood) to county to state to federation. But the moderating effects that mixing with neighbours of differing opinions once inspired, much like the health benefits born of daily contact with others, are crumbling, leading to inexorably more polarized politics.

We may say we are disturbed by the fact that we no longer know our neighbours, but, to a largely unspoken extent, distance from the hard work of getting along with them is precisely what we want. Hell is other people, claimed Jean-Paul Sartre, and contemporary Westerners agree with him.

Increasingly, we live alone, even while maintaining vibrant social networks with like-minded souls, especially online. Solo households, meaning there is no constricting “other” even within the home, are the fastest-growing home segment in Canada now. The paraphernalia of living alone are taking an ever larger market share in the modern world. Sales of single-serving cookware, including one-cup teapots, have grown by 140 per cent in Britain over the last generation. And, while eerily quiet subdivisions make social commentators uneasy, condominium complexes, where neighbours rub shoulders with each other more often, make residents uneasy, since they feature as much conflict as harmony.

For decades, Americans and Canadians have been steadily less likely to vote, to play bridge, to volunteer, to invite people over for dinner, to join parent-teacher groups or local organizations the way previous generations did–from the Rotary Club to bowling leagues. Family remains strong, possibly because, in the solo age, even very close relatives are not living under one roof. Between the mid-1990s and 2008, the percentage of Americans who reported eating at least once a month with relatives with whom they didn’t live rose from 52 to 59. Over a longer period (1974 to 2008), the percentage who spent an evening socializing with neighbours tumbled from 44 to 31, while the percentage who never did so rose from 20 to 30. The evolving modern definition of a good neighbour is no longer someone who is part of your life, someone you chat with over the fence, a reliable shoulder in good times and bad, but someone who doesn’t bother you, either in your enjoyment of your home or by threatening its property value.

Pinker and Dunkelman agree that the Internet, the usual suspect in contemporary social upheaval, is not the root cause of a development that began to take shape when cars allowed a separation between work and home. The digital era does allow more autonomy and less uncomfortable jostling with others in everything from online shopping to college, where students needn’t leave their dorm rooms to take part in a MOOC (a massive open online course). The explosion in smartphone technology and ownership has accelerated the trend. But the Internet is only answering demand and nudging us further along a path we were already following.

Our new capacity to reach out to the ends of the Earth, in fact, is primarily lavished on those already close: Research shows that family and friends receive the bulk of our personal emails and texts. Our limited time and attention is dividing between those dearest to us and those who think like us, the latter via online relationships, where the link–whether it’s environmental activism or hockey-card collecting–is often one-dimensional.

In Pinker’s opinion, our propensity to wrongly believe that online relationships effectively replace in-person ones is playing out disastrously in education. The MOOCs that allow students to play hermit in their dorm rooms are exploding in popularity, an apparently cheap way to deliver quality education to the poor and disadvantaged. Yet, while some MOOCs enrol hundreds of thousands, an average of 90 per cent drop out, citing a lack of opportunity for words of encouragement or personal evaluation. Meanwhile, parents who can afford it, including the chief technology officer at eBay, place their children in low-tech but teacher-rich private schools. (In China, according to the Huffington Post, parents who want their kindergartner to receive hugs from their teachers pay a monthly fee.)

The way distance erodes real emotional intimacy perhaps explains why, in surveys cited by both authors, North Americans report slightly more frequent contact with their closest family and friends than in past years, but also record that the average number of their confidants had dropped from three in 1985 to two in 2004. The number of Americans with no confidants at all has shot up from eight to 23 per cent, in some surveys.

“We are now more insular and more ignorant of the other guy’s thinking,” Dunkelman says. “There is greater mutual ignorance than a generation ago between people who live in close proximity. When there’s no habit of compromise, then the very idea of your Congressman reaching across the aisle is apostasy. The politicians in Washington who won’t do that are actually responding to their constituents’ wishes.”

Politicians need to scramble to get in front of a polarized electorate, because of how far Americans have gone down the road some sociologists call the “big sort.” Although they live in ever-smaller individual units, Americans are settling themselves in mono-neighbourhoods, homogenized not by ethnicity but by income, lifestyle and, above all, attitude. (The latter often trumps income: In New York Times columnist David Brooks’s apt summary, a Democratic Washington-area dweller asked to sell her $750,000 home in a party-friendly suburb and move to an equally expensive home in a Republican neighbourhood would react as if she had been requested to mount a gun rack in her SUV and “shove chewing tobacco in her children’s mouths.”)

In Canada, the kind of “big-sort” us-vs.-them politics Dunkelman sees across his nation is visible largely in major cities, especially Toronto. There, residential self-selection has been growing for years: A 2006 study by a University of Toronto geographer noted that the preponderance of Toronto’s leftist politicians chose to live downtown, while the opposite was true of right-wingers. The result has been a growing disconnect between suburbs and central city that Rob Ford rode to the mayor’s office in 2010; simmering anti-downtown-elite anger in the older suburbs supplies what support he still maintains. Canadian federal and provincial politicians don’t have the same deep urban divides within arm’s reach, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying to build virtual mono-communities via the Internet. The older methods of retail politics, the door-to-door campaigns (which find fewer and fewer people at home) and town hall rallies (where voters would be exposed to neighbours with different views) are giving way to building up email lists of likely supporters, virtual town hall meetings without dissenting voices, and the kind of partisan, polarized messaging that keeps core voters–the party base–satisfied and willing to continue financial and electoral support.

It’s a new neighbourhood, all right: less physical, less tied to place, smaller and more congenial to those on the inside, more suspicious and unyielding to those outside. What Dunkelman and Pinker want readers and policy-makers to recognize is that downside: What brings us closer to people halfway around the world also makes strangers of those next door. We willingly abandoned the bad, chafing aspect of our old neighbourly ties; we have to somehow learn to maintain the good habits of compromise and personal interaction they also gave us.

Why I love Cumberland

Why I love Cumberland

Here is an example of one thing that I love about living in Cumberland:

This morning a woman was walking by with her dog when I went on to my front porch to pick up the newspaper. She called out ‘Hi’ and when I responded said ‘You’re new here, aren’t you? My name is Bert. It’s good to have you here. If you need anything I just live up there in that yellow house yonder’.

When I turned to go back…

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The Value of Neighbors and Friends

The Simple Dollar, 26 Apr 2013
Here are some of the things that have happened to my family over the last few weeks.

One of our neighbors watched all three of our children for several hours for free so that Sarah and I could work on a backyard project together and have a nice quiet dinner together.

Another neighbor loaned us some gardening equipment. Another friend gave us some seeds for our garden.

In one evening, four different people that live near us stopped to talk to me as I worked in the front yard. One of them invited me to a non-religious event hosted by his church. Another swapped some recipes with us. Another friend gave us a few coupons that were particularly useful to us. Another friend of mine passed along a job offer.

These are just the interactions I could recall over the last week or two since the weather became nice enough to spend time outside.

All of these things came about because I put effort into getting to know my neighbors and make friends in the community. That effort takes time more than anything else, but over the long run it rewards me in countless ways.

Sometimes, that reward is purely social. At other times, it rewards me in a financial sense or in a time-saving sense. In either case, those relationships add consistent value to my life.

A side note: my belief is that online interaction hinders this kind of relationship building. Cell phones and the internet make it easier to just reinforce the close friends you already have and often doesn’t lead to face-to-face interactions and relationship building with new people.

So, how do you build these kinds of relationships?

The easiest first step is to meet your neighbors. Talk to them when you see them outside their home. When you see that they need help with something, offer to help. If someone new moves in, knock on their door and introduce yourself, ideally with a small housewarming gift.

Some people won’t interact with you and will avoid you. You can’t really help that. However, most people will interact with you in a positive way and you can build on that. Invite your neighbors over once in a while for a meal or for a drink. Look for things you have in common with them and build on them.

The other useful method is to get involved in community activities. What kinds of things are going on in your town? What kinds of community organizations exist? This takes some research, but it’s often worth it. Go to the library and to city hall to look for activity lists, group lists, and community calendars. Go to things that seem interesting. Talk to people when you’re there.

Eventually, you’ll begin to see the same people at events and, over time, you’ll get to know them. As with your neighbors, help them out when you can. Congratulate them on their successes. If you see something that would be useful for them, grab it and give it to them later (things like coupons and so on).

If you do this for other people, they’ll begin to do the same for you. Over time, you’ll build up a great collection of friends and neighbors who constantly come through for you when you need it.

You can often help others by just spending a bit of time and energy, but when they help you in return, it can often save you far more energy and time and money. The help you give almost always costs you less than the value of the help and friendship you’ll eventually receive.