When I was a kid, my family lived in a Middle Class neighborhood in New York, a mixed bag of second-generation Americans, mostly young World War II veterans who were raising new families and working hard to succeed. We knew all of our neighbors, and everyone more or less got along. There were lots of multi-family barbecues and neighborhood block parties in the summertime. We swam together at the neighborhood pool (if you want to call what we did swimming…the pool was so crowded it was more like splashing each other while standing still, ) and the kids played together in relative peace every night until dark. When there was friction, the dads got together and talked things out over a beer or two, or our moms ironed things out over donuts and coffee. Things weren’t perfect, but they were honest–out in the open. There were few secrets to speak of and very, very few lies.
Of course, life today is absolutely nothing like the good old days. That’s to be expected, I know. But it is still a source of dismay to me to see just how far away from that feeling of community we have come. The art of talking neighbor-to-neighbor to resolve differences or iron out misunderstandings seems to be all but extinct. I don’t know if we are too self-absorbed, too afraid or just too damn lazy to talk to each other anymore, but the truth is that we just don’t. We use social media to express our feelings anonymously, or write text messages to distance ourselves from the emotional aftershock of what we had to say. We take no responsibility for finding out where the other guy is coming from — we don’t care to know what motivates him or hear his side of a story, or–God forbid– learn about him as person or let him into our over-crowded, over-full lives. We are isolated, self-protective, and, all too often, wrong about what we believe about the people around us. And it’s a damn shame.
Today, I invite everyone reading this to take a moment to speak to someone you don’t know. Slap a smile on your face, put your hand out and introduce yourself to the guy who lives next door. You don’t need to invite him to dinner or ask him to move in. Just start a conversation; you never know where it might lead.