Close to home: why everybody needs good neighbours

Do the names Madge Bishop, Joe Mangel and Susan Kennedy ring any bells?

Much like an overwhelming majority of British twenty-somethings, my adolescence and student days were inextricably linked to the Australian soap opera, Neighbours. For more than a decade, I watched with relish the daily occurrences of suburban life on Ramsay Street, marvelling at the latest romances, arguments and incidents affecting the ‘neighbourhood.’ And yes, at the height of my university days, I sometimes even succumbed to watching the same episode twice in a single day. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that now.

It’s been many years since I last viewed the show (when Channel Five purchased the rights and its tenure on BBC One drew to a close, so too did my avid viewership for some implausible reason), however I would hazard a guess that today’s Neighbours still revolves around the same core principles: a small community of people, from all walks of life, drawn together by little more than geographic location but with a shared vested interest in one another’s wellbeing. Indeed, the lyrics of its famous theme music succinctly, if not somewhat repetitively, rather charmingly summed up this core message:

Neighbours … everybody needs good neighbours
With a little understanding
You can find the perfect blend
Neighbours … should be there for one another
That’s when good neighbours become good friends.

Throughout my formative years, I must have sung along to this merry tune hundreds of times, yet it has only been very recently that I have begun to truly comprehend the meaning of these lyrics.

Over the past 12 weeks, Mrs V and I have had the privilege of leading a ‘life group’ for our church. As the first time that we had undertaken such a leadership role, we felt that this undertaking would benefit from a central theme – and as such, we were pleased to have The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Doorrecommended to us by our pastor.

The Art of Neighboring

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon’s book, first published in 2012, examines Jesus’ Great Commandment – ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’(Mark 12:31). Split into twelve themed chapters, each supported by questions, the book is specifically designed to aid with focused group discussion and examines why the majority of Christians do not know deeply know and connect with their literal neighbours – and ways in which to overcome barriers. While faith is at the heart of the teaching, the book’s message extends beyond Christianity and into wider society. At its heart, it examines how, by becoming a community of great neighbours, the majority of issues that plague individuals can be combated through support, generosity and kindness.

In our society in the 21st century, we are seemingly more time-poor than ever before, due to the frantic pace of life that we are all now encouraged to live at. This, coupled with mobile technology and social media creating the allusion of connectedness, has led to many of us feeling that there is simply not a need to get to know our neighbours better. As the authors state early on regarding why it can be so hard to take the first step, “it’s likely that your schedule is already packed and that the idea of becoming a good neighbour might sounds impractical … [but] it’s within our power to become good neighbours, to care for the people around us and to be cared for by the people around us.”

At the outset of our first session, we challenged the group to learn the names of their neighbours, their personal interests and to reach out to those living in their local neighbourhood. Small steps, granted, but necessary ones to begin the journey. As group leaders, we both also took on the task and benefited enormously from making a concerted effort to be present in our local community and to look for opportunities to connect with those that we live in close proximity to.

It has not, by any measure, been an easy journey to make thus far, and it is one that we are only at the outset of personally. Successful neighbouring requires focus, clear boundaries, setting time aside, flexibility and compassion. Above all, however, it requires prioritisation and being intentional. Examining Psalm 90:12 – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” the authors note that while “we all have limited time and energy … if we don’t purposely choose how we will spend it, those choices will be made for us. In essence, we just let life happen, passively. Time spent surfing the internet, playing video games, or just watching reruns of our favourite sitcoms won’t amount to anything of value.”

Becoming a good neighbour is a significant challenge and an art, but it is a directive that lies at the very heart of Biblical teaching. Making the conscious decision to invest in getting to know and helping those living around you can be tremendously rewarding, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big sacrifice – it can be as simple as having a meaningful conversation with that neighbour that you see leaving their house each morning, opening your home up for a social gathering, or extending the hand of friendship when it is clear that a neighbour is going through a difficult time.

So next time an opportunity presents itself to become a better neighbour, I implore you to grab it firmly with both hands. You may be surprised by what happens when you are truly there for one another.

The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon provides tools, resources, and inspiration for people seeking to become better friends and neighbors to those who live close to them. To find out more, visit theartofneighboring.com.