Be the neighbour you want to see in the world

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Columnist

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about a note that had been left on my car when I parked it in front of a house a couple of blocks from mine. Normally I park in my own driveway, but due to water main replacement my driveway has been inaccessible for almost three weeks, forcing me to seek alternative parking. On two occasions during a five-day span I parked in front of a neighbouring house, and one morning when I arrived to collect my car I found a note asking me to stop taking “their” parking.

I thought I had been quite conscientious in my parking. I had left plenty of clearance for their driveway, and I had avoided parking there on a daily basis. And of course the street, available to the public and owned by the municipality, was not “theirs” at all. When I mentioned this incident to some friends they commented on how angry I must have been, but I wasn’t. I was, instead, sad.

I was even more saddened when, within hours of publishing my blog post, I began receiving emails containing notes others had been left by their neighbours. The one left on my car paled in comparison to the nasty nature of some of these. These were not notes one left to strangers – these were notes you left to people you thought were your enemies.

Thanks to the internet, we are more connected than ever. We can be part of a protest happening on the other side of the world, or attend a concert on another continent without ever leaving our homes. We develop and form relationships in forums and on Facebook groups, often with people we have never met – and yet sometimes it feels we are more disconnected than ever from the people who live just a few doors down.

How did this happen? How did we lose the sense of neighbourhood in which we once took such pride, finding it replaced instead with anonymous notes left on cars and tucked into mailboxes? When did we stop speaking to each other and start leaving notes instead?

How did this happen? How did we lose the sense of neighbourhood in which we once took such pride, finding it replaced instead with anonymous notes left on cars and tucked into mailboxes? When did we stop speaking to each other and start leaving notes instead?

I don’t know, to be honest. I know that it is deeply worrisome as I found some of the notes others shared with me downright alarming. There were some so troubling I contacted those who shared them with me and suggested they contact their local police, concerned for their safety.

What I do know is that it appears we have a serious problem. I received messages from across the country, so no one should think this is an isolated issue, although far more originated from urban settings where it is easier for one to leave anonymous notes and remain undetected. We seem to have a crisis when it comes to community building, one occurring right at the micro level of our own neighbourhoods, which bodes ill for our macro community building. If we can find it in our hearts to leave such notes, then I would suggest we can find it quite easy to turn a blind eye to other issues plaguing our communities.

What I found most remarkable was that the recipients of most of these notes were not angry, either. Some were hurt, and some were a bit disillusioned – but almost invariably they were far more interested in building bridges with their unpleasant neighbours than burning their houses down.
They expressed a wish that the neighbour had simply spoken to them about their barking dog or their house party that got a wee bit too noisy. They were keen to find a way to resolve differences, and to turn them into opportunities to develop understanding.

The next time we have a neighbourhood issue, we need to be the person who takes the difficult step of ringing that doorbell and standing on that doorstep and explain to our neighbour how their behaviour has impacted us, and ask them to perhaps consider us in the future. If we commit to doing that instead of leaving anonymous notes we might just have a chance to start building our communities again, one neighbourhood at a time.

To paraphrase a famous adage, be the neighbour you want to see in the world. Be the one who is fair and open and honest, who seeks to resolve conflicts and find commonalities where there are differences because in the end, how our neighbourhoods develop is up to us.

We are the neighbours – so let’s be good ones.

– Connect Weekly –