Our neighbors may be densely packed in an apartment complex. Or they may be acres away on the nearest ranch. Still, neighbors play a key role in our overall sense of well-being.
Originally, neighbors were vital to our existence. They provided the community that kept us safe from the elements. People worked, tended offspring and defended their property in close concert with those living nearby.
Nowadays, we’re more independent. We have access to ample supplies of food and human contact without relying on the folks next door.
In fact, many of us may not even know who lives on either side. An online survey conducted in June 2011 by Harris Interactive found that more people could identify their neighbors’ cars (47 percent) than their neighbors’ first names (41 percent). They know neighbors’ pets better than their kids. And only 17 percent have been inside most of their neighbors’ homes.
This isolation comes at a cost. Our neighborhoods aren’t as safe. According to Matt Peskin, executive director of the National Association of Town Watch and creator of National Night Out, “If you look at the 1940s and 1950s, neighborhoods were safer places because people knew each other.”
We’re also less trusting. In 1960, 55 percent of American adults believed others could be trusted most or all of the time. By 2005, that number had dropped to 32 percent in aPew Internet and American Life Project survey.
Fortunately, most of us want closer relationships with our neighbors. We feel secure knowing someone’s available in an emergency. It’s convenient to borrow lastminute items without having to go to the store. Our kids benefit from having play friends who are only a few doors away.
Research shows that people in connected communities are happier and healthier. They have fewer illnesses and are less likely to become depressed. They’re also more likely to vote, volunteer their time and give to charity.
Our relationships with our neighbors also speak volumes about who we are. Neighbors appear randomly in our lives. We don’t select them. There may be inherent similarities, such as a desire to be close to a park, and economic factors indicate comparable incomes. Still, how we treat our neighbors is a microcosm of how we view the world. If we’re cooperative, inclusive and friendly it’s apparent to others on the street. If we’re mean-spirited or selfcentered, that’s obvious, too.
So think about those folks pulling into their driveway. Take a few moments to stop and say hi. You’ll both probably enjoy the interaction. And make life better for everyone on the block.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.