I took a poll recently.
This poll consisted of 10 friends that I separately asked one simple question. The question was:
What is your neighbor’s name?
Seems like a fairly simple and straightforward question. If you live right next to someone, you should probably know their name, right? Well turns out only 4 out of the 10 people I asked knew their neighbor’s name, and out of those 4, none were well acquainted.
Now, this is a small sample but I’ll go ahead and surmise this data on a larger scale. House, apartment, townhome, or otherwise, the majority of people do not know their neighbor.
Isn’t that sad?
We spend our lives, or chunks of it at least, living mere steps from people we don’t even know. It’s almost as if we are blind to them, our existences kept separate due to our smug attitudes — only to our determent though. I believe neighbors can have so much to offer each other. The truth is most of us don’t know our neighbors, and that makes them strangers.
About a year ago, there was a student at my school who died in a car accident just miles from campus. It happened in the middle of the night, but everybody found out about it the morning after. I’ll never forget the feeling I had. I walked past this guy every single day on my way to class and I never said a word to him. We had mutual friends and would see each other often but I never spoke to him. I found out later how great of a guy he was and it seems I would definitely have benefited from knowing him, but I never got out of my comfort zone enough to strike up a conversation. The morning before the accident I walked past him and didn’t even bother to say hi. I didn’t know it then but that encounter was my last chance to get to know him. To maybe learn something from him, or just be a friend.
Now, this doesn’t bother me because the guy was lonely or needed a friend or had some kind of issue. In fact, he was actually well liked by many people and had no problem being social. What really bothers me is the commonality of the situation. He isn’t the only person I walk straight by on my way to class with a nod and a half-smile. That’s the kind of relationship I have with many people, and it’s nearly worthless.
What’s your excuse?
Of course, it’s good to be polite and smile at someone walking by. I don’t always have time to talk because often times I need to get where I’m going quickly. But what about when I’m standing in line for coffee or waiting outside the classroom for the professor. What’s my excuse then?
Often times my excuse is introversion. I’m a shy introvert so I’m not going to speak to you unless you speak to me, and even then it will be short and shallow.
What a lame excuse.
Imagine there’s a person sitting alone at the picnic table next to yours. You look over and see that their hair is on fire but they don’t notice. 9 out of 10 people would probably do something in this situation. Why? Because it’s serious. His hair is on fire and he will get hurt unless you do something.
Now I’m not trying to say a stranger will be physically or emotionally hurt if you don’t speak to them, but I think we should have this mindset. Their existence is important and their well-being is serious. It is simply not enough to say hello to our neighbors in passing. We should speak to them as often as we see them because the fact is, one day they won’t be our neighbors anymore. Besides what are we losing out on by avoiding a conversation with someone? Obviously, not everyone you speak to will be your favorite person; it might even be the worst conversation ever — but don’t assume that. There is quite possibly something to gain from a relationship with the person standing next to you in line or sitting next to you at the bus station. It may be something as small as a bit of knowledge exchanged.
But I think there’s something greater to be gained here — a very specific kind of joy I find every time I give careful thought to the wellbeing of a stranger. That’s because we are meant for that kind of connection. Whether we like them or not, or whether it’s easy or not, there is a joy to be had.
So don’t speak to them in hopes of some business connection, although that is a possibility, but instead for the pure joy of loving your neighbor.
And don’t give up after the first try. Really getting to know someone takes persistence.
Why are we passing up opportunities to be a friend to those we meet? Are we just so complacent with our lives that we can’t even imagine an improvement? This is one area I need to do better in. I can’t see the benefit of a future relationship because I’m completely content with the friends I have now. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with being content with your friendships, but if it comes to a point where you decline meeting new people, it means you are finding your identity in friends — and that’s never a good thing. If you’re working on this as I am, I encourage you to take a step out.
Meet your neighbor. Say hi. You could be surprised.
And don’t worry about being the most eloquent of characters either. All you need is the right attitude and some motivation.