You Can Be a Good Neighbor
WHEN older folks speak of the “good old days,” what do you think they have in mind? In terms of material wealth, comforts and conveniences or medical services, the old days were not so “good” for most people. There were no televisions, few automobiles, telephones or other things that many today would find it hard to live without. What was so good, then? No doubt what they have in mind is the neighborliness that existed then.
Although there was little financial security, people helped one another. As many old folks tell it, however poor a man was, he always had a little to lend to his neighbor. If anyone was seriously ill, the neighbors would give practical help, such as cooking meals or caring for the children. If a man had a big job to do around the house, the neighbors would often pitch in and help.
However, as the authorities do more and more for people, they need one another less and less. Nevertheless, we still have to live with our neighbors. The Bible warned long ago that “one isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing.” (Proverbs 18:1) A person who refuses to mix with others eventually becomes unbalanced, even eccentric.
True, we usually do not choose our neighbors, and they do not choose us. And “bad associations” do “spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) But if we learn to live with them wisely, it will be of benefit to them and to us. What does this involve?
The “Dos” of Neighborliness
Being a good neighbor requires understanding. Different things are acceptable in different kinds of neighborhoods. If we come from a rural area where people constantly visit with one another, we may have to adjust if we move into the city and cannot do that. In some cities neighborhoods are mixed, with folks coming from different backgrounds. Some may act in ways that we are not used to, but so long as they are not a public nuisance or not threatening to our own family, why criticize them?
A good neighbor also needs to be friendly. How much time does it take to say a smiling “Good morning” to those we pass on the sidewalk or in the elevator? Even one cheerful face can make a whole group of people feel better.
Being friendly, we will also want to learn the names of people living around us. If we speak to our neighbors by name, we show that we view them as individuals, and they are likely to feel warmer toward us.
A good neighbor needs to exercise concern, too. If someone close by is sick, it shows concern to remember to ask how he is and to speak a few comforting words. There may even be some small task we can do for him to help lighten his load. Also, if there is an elderly person living nearby, why not try to be extra considerate of him? For example, if we are going shopping, perhaps there is something we could purchase for the elderly one. If a light is left on in his house for an unusual length of time, or a door is left open, why not check to be sure that things are all right?
And what if we should see a crime in progress or something happening that looks wrong? Well, it is not usually wise to charge in heroically and try to handle the situation. Trained people usually do that kind of thing better than we could. But at least neighborly concern will move us to inform the police quickly, and perhaps to take notice of details that would help them later.
A useful guide in dealing with neighbors is what has been called the golden rule: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) Thus, if we see a problem involving a neighbor, and wonder how we should act, ask: “What would I want someone to do for me if I were in that situation?” The answer will help us to make a wise decision.
On one occasion a bystander asked Jesus: “Who really is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by recounting the parable of the “good Samaritan.” He showed that a real neighbor is one who will help when he sees someone in need. If we show friendliness, understanding and concern for our neighbors, we will be following that fine example.—Luke 10:29-37.
The “Don’ts” of Neighborliness
There are also certain things a good neighbor will not do. This is because he is considerate. He will not, for example, play his stereo equipment or television so loudly as to entertain the whole neighborhood. He will keep his house and surroundings neat and clean, thus not detracting from the appearance of the neighborhood.
A wise man long ago wrote: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.” (Proverbs 25:17) Yes, while an occasional visit may be welcome, neighbors can quickly become tired of a constant caller.
Then again the apostle Paul warned against those who kept “gadding about to the houses” and were “gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs.” (1 Timothy 5:13) We avoid local gossip and scandalmongering if we limit the time we spend visiting with neighbors. Besides, most people today complain that they do not have enough time to do all the things they want. Time spent on excessive socializing may mean sacrificing the opportunity to do something more important.
A good neighbor has respect for those around him and deals with them in mildness. Thus he will not make small problems into big ones. One summer evening in Amsterdam a father was upset because the noise of a radio across the street was keeping his children awake. His wife gently suggested that he go to the neighbor and explain the problem. His neighbor, on hearing the problem reasonably discussed, was glad to cooperate. He turned off the radio, remarking: “I never listen to all that political stuff anyway!” What could have been a bad situation was averted by handling it mildly, and the two neighbors became good friends.
Finally, we need discernment and balance. Some of our neighbors may have bad habits. They may smoke, use bad language or live immoral lives. In some areas teenagers use drugs and are organized in gangs. So we have to balance our neighborliness with ensuring that bad habits do not rub off on us or our children. Yes, being a good neighbor involves a lot of things.
The Power of Neighborliness
Early in 1980, John, an elder in a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, found himself in a situation where neighborly feeling had completely broken down. It happened in a town in Oklahoma, U.S.A. A black teenager had been killed, and the local black population had the impression that the police were doing nothing about it. A vicious race riot erupted, with bullets flying freely.
Yet John’s home was like an oasis in the turmoil. Although he, with his wife and teenage daughter, had to lie on the floor for several hours to avoid stray bullets, there was no racial tension or hatred there. In fact, this white family shared their refuge with a black girl and a Mexican family. John’s wife said: “I know there is trouble; I’m not blind. But on the basis on which we have dealings with people—blacks and whites—there is a good relationship.”
Yes, this family had been good neighbors to the people around them. They had shown them respect and consideration and, as a result, were respected in return. The racial hatreds were not directed against them.
A few days after the rioting, in the course of preaching from house to house (a neighborhood service that all of Jehovah’s Witnesses share in), they happened to call on the relatives of the boy whose death had sparked the violence. In a friendly fashion they expressed their sympathy and gave the finest help they could. They spoke about the sure hope of a resurrection from the dead and the prospect of living soon in a world where everyone will be good neighbors. That world is described in a verse in the Bible book of Isaiah: “They will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isaiah 11:9.
All of us would surely like to live in a world like that. But, while we are waiting for it, we have to live with things as they are. Nevertheless, if, like John and his family, we act in a balanced, neighborly way toward the people who live around us, being considerate and respectful of them, we will find life more pleasant. And—who knows?—perhaps our neighbors will become more neighborly toward us.