Published: January 24, 2010
Most of us don’t really know much about the people living next door or down the street.
I’ve noticed that in my neighborhood, some people pay attention to the people around them, and others do not.
When walking or driving through the neighborhood, some neighbors look up when I pass, while others seem to be intent on maintaining virtual privacy by avoiding eye contact. Some will initiate a wave, while others may respond when I wave, but not make the first move.
In rural areas, people are more likely to wave than in more densely populated areas. Even today many drivers on country roads will give the raise-two-fingers-off-the-steering-wheel wave even when passing strangers. (For city folks, please note that this is much different from the one-finger salute.)
People are friendlier in some circumstances than others.
Boaters are likely to wave to other boaters. They might be passing on opposite sides of the lake and have no idea who is in the other vessel, but those hands go shooting up in a friendly gesture.
For a number of reasons, we don’t tend to be as outgoing as we used to be. We are all less likely to speak to strangers.
As a result, fewer people have any idea who their neighbors are.
Of the 10 neighbors closest to you, how many do you actually know? If you are like most people, the answer may be one or two.
Of course, it’s not really necessary in most cases to know your neighbors.
We can all get by without having any idea who is coming and going down the street. However, there can be some surprising benefits to becoming acquainted with those around us.
Here are a few curious facts about your neighbors.
1. Of the 10 neighbors closest to your home, nine would like to know you. (There’s always that one that just wants to be left alone.)
2. Although surveys indicate that most people would prefer to know their neighbors, they are not likely to initiate contact.
Many are hesitant to “impose” on people they don’t know by dropping in without an invitation. Some people just don’t feel confident in introducing themselves to strangers. Some worry that others might not be interested in meeting them.
3. Most people respond that they would welcome an introductory visit from their neighbors, even if they are hesitant to make that visit themselves.
If you are among the nine out of 10 people that would like to know more about your neighbors, it may be up to you to make the first move. Even if you do not consider yourself a gregarious social butterfly, getting to know your neighbors is actually pretty easy.
It can be as simple as taking the time to walk across the street with a gesture of some homemade bread or cookies, a small houseplant or other inexpensive gift. You don’t really have to present a gift, but many people feel less awkward if they have a reason to visit.
Just ring the bell, smile and tell your neighbor that you just wanted to stop for a minute to introduce yourself.
In many cases, the first visit is best if you stay outside the home and keep it brief, so the neighbor doesn’t feel like they have to be a host unexpectedly.
You may also offer to exchange phone numbers and let them know you are available if they need assistance and would enjoy getting to know them better. You might discover someone that shares an interest or hobby or perhaps an elderly neighbor that could really use a hand.
Now is a great time to make that initial contact. As weather warms and people are outside more, it is more natural to greet one another. This initial introduction might even lead to a great summer barbecue!
By the way, if you are the one in 10 that just wants to be left alone, don’t worry if your neighbor reads this and decides to pay a visit … they won’t stay long!
Next week: Many people will experience back pain, but you don’t have to. I’ll tell you how to avoid it!
Dr Mark Kestner