While house hunting, we tend to place a lot of our attention on the details that pertain specifically to the dwelling. We want the kitchen to feel just right, the garage to be large enough for tools, perhaps even a workshop and the backyard to offer a sense of privacy.
We might be concerned with possible noise and disturbances from the neighbors, but how much thought do we actually give to the neighborhood? Do we assume that our middle-class or affluent neighbors will be “good” merely based on their apparent lifestyle? Honestly, we often do, and our assumption is often accurate (thank goodness). But in a society that values privacy so much, how well do we know our neighbors, truly?
Privacy and territorial boundaries often go hand in hand, at least in our minds. We put up hedges and fences to secure our space and though we may live in communities where neighbors are numerous and within walking distance, it is not rare for neighbors not to know each other’s names.
This brings to mind the true story of two neighbors.
Knowing begets trust – Picture this: Mid 1960’s, suburban community on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. The beginnings of a residential development that was about to grow exponentially over just a decade or two. Streets lined up with bungalows, separated by no more than about 30 feet of grass. All the children go to the same school and play together on the street after dinner.
Every morning of the week, in a moment of nearly perfect industrial revolution synchronicity, adults emerge from their respective garages at the wheel of their bulky 1960’s Buicks and Fords to begin the journey to work, on automatic pilot.
When the weekend arrives, two neighbors return to perpetual yard chores using the equipment and tools they co-own. They have a spoken understanding: Each individual is responsible for the maintenance of the equipment while they are using it and prior to returning it to the neighbor. When you consider the price of property maintenance equipment on a middle class, mid-sixties income, as well as the reverence we feel toward our belongings, it is clear that trust must have been a shared understanding of their unspoken contract. Come to think of it, the fact that there was no contract is a statement in itself.
In the twenty or so years I witnessed this scenario between my parents and our next door neighbors, I never witnessed a single disagreement or disappointment. Knowing begets trust and trust begets respect. This was the extent of involvement in the community each family embraced, but it was certainly a model of true community spirit. I did not realize this until just recently.
Today, at a time when individuality reigns, an interesting transformation seems to be upon us nonetheless. More and more Americans go out of their ways to take part in civic and community activities. This is partly because the opportunity exists; and greatly because we have created this opportunity. We yearn to be a part of something greater than ourselves and we make it a point to instill this yearning in our children.
When we find a comfortable place within a community, the fence and hedge become decorative features rather than boundaries, neighbors admire each other’s landscaping abilities, share knowledge and plants, and the gate is always unlocked. It keeps pets and children safe, but welcomes the neighbor who might walk over upon a rainy morning to bring flowers when they are most needed. Knowing begets trust, trust begets respect and respect begets compassion.
Privacy is not an island. Rather, it is a quality of life that exists when we can trust that being a part of the community does not lead to an invasion of one’s personal space; instead, it leads to an expansion of one’s personal joy.