Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
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We have all been there: You see someone new moving into the house next door. You peek out your window, thinking, "I wonder what they're like. I hope they're not loud, or mean," or whatever those behaviors are that drive you nuts. You then see your new neighbors unloading the truck, and you start wondering things like, "How much stuff do they have? Do they have kids? Where did they come from?"
A couple of weeks pass, and you still have not yet met your new neighbors. Then a school function is taking place, and your kids are in the same class. You attend the function, and there they are: the new neighbors. You awkwardly introduce yourself and, within minutes, you are chatting and building a friendship. You then wonder why it took you so long to introduce yourself, and now you feel bad you did not help them unload or even welcome them into the neighborhood.
This scenario happens all too often all around the world — and the world we live in now seems to have enough problems without us adding to them. If we would just allow ourselves to be a little more caring, we could become better neighbors, better friends and better individiuals.
Here are five easy ways to be a better neighbor:
- Be approachable: It makes a huge difference if, when you go outside to get your mail, take out the trash or walk your pet, you simply smile and say hi. Small gestures like this will show that you are approachable, and that can make all the difference. When you are approachable, people will want to talk with you, help you and get to know you. This can make a huge difference not just for the two of you, but for all those living in your neighborhood.
- Give respect and earn respect: In order to give respect, you need to know who your neighbors really are. Do they have young kids? Do they have pets? Are they married, single? Being able to answer these types of questions can help ensure you provide the respect your neighbors deserve. If you are thoughtful, kind and respectful, you will more often than not receive that in return. It does not mean you have to be best friends, but in today's world, respect is very much like one credit card company so perfectly put it: "Priceless."
- Extend an invitation: Invite your neighbors over for a barbecue, ice cream, to show them something you made, whatever. Find a compelling reason to invite them over to your home so that they can see you are a good person. It is amazing how many times a small, simple invitation can lead to lifelong friendships. We should not allow our fear of the invitation or even rejection stand in our way. If a neighbor declines, that's OK. See if there is a better time to make it happen. Often when someone is rejected by their neighbor for any reason, they take it so personally they become bitter. Don't allow that to happen; give it time and try again.
- Put service above self: This is the theme of Rotary International. The truth is, if every human made this their personal motto, the world would be a better place. The impact that service has on you and your neighbors is often hard to put into words. From putting their empty trash can back by the side of their house to picking up their newspaper on the driveway and putting it on their door step, acts of service that come from a sincere heart can do so much good. Service is one of the most contagious things that someone can catch, and to be a better neighbor, you should not only want to catch this but spread it to everyone else. Look for ways to help your neighbor and then, instead of saying, "I should go do that," just go do it. Here are some easy ways to show you care through service: Rake leaves, mow the lawn, shovel the driveway, wash the car, play with the kids.
- Accept service: This may seem like an odd point to make, but pride is a party crasher and a relationship killer. For the majority of people, it is much easier to give service than receive it. However, if we do not allow our neighbors or others to serve us when they feel the need, we are becoming a roadblock to a better relationship. We need to not be so prideful that we have to do everything ourselves. If a neighbor walks over with a rake, let them rake. If they come over with some paint and a paintbrush and say, "We heard you have wanted to paint your fence for awhile, we are here to help," don't say no; get your overalls on and allow for that wonderful experience to happen. During the holidays we often hear of great experiences of people feeling so much better about giving than receiving. Let us not be so selfish to rob our neighbors of the wonderful feelings that come from service. Now for my final suggestion — a bonus, you might say. Now, after reading this and thinking of ways to be a better neighbor, I don't suggest you print this and give it to that one neighbor who has been a thorn in your side for the past year. My suggestion is to find some way in the next 24 hours to make a connection with them. If they have offended you, swallow your pride and go extend your hand in service. Invite them over on Saturday to watch a sports game or do a craft. Making a connection to your neighbors will have lasting impacts on everyone involved.
Don't live one more day not being a better neighbor. The truth is, we need each other more now than we ever have. I love these words by Edward B. Rust Jr., CEO of State Farm Insurance: "Definition of good neighbor: someone to be trusted; a courteous, friendly source of help when help is needed; someone you can count on; someone who cares."
My final question to all of us is this: Are we a good neighbor?
Seth Saunders is currently branch president of the Pembroke Branch (Spanish) and a founding board member of the Pink Shoe Hero Foundation. Seth has been married 15 years to his amazing wife Amber and is the proud father of three wonderful sons.