(Today's post is from my real-life friend, Renia Carsillo. Renia is one of the few people I still talk to from high school, and one of the things I love most about her is that we disagree on some things. Being friends with someone whose perspective can be so different from mine has made me a better person.)
If you’ve been reading this series feeling like being a better neighbor is wonderful, but the idea of forced intimacy that happens when you befriend a neighbor terrifies you, today’s post is for you.
Being a good neighbor doesn’t start with a batch of chocolate chip cookies or an urge to connect with a community. Neighboring begins within you, from a place of of acceptance and open-hearted living. It cannot be successfully manifested until you can say to yourself, at least in a trembling whisper,
“I am enough.”
If you don’t believe you are enough, it’s going to be tough to open yourself up to the very real risk of neighboring--the risk of indecent exposure.
Your neighbors see you take the trash out in your underwear at 5 am, hoping no one will catch you.
Your neighbors might hear you say something not-so-nice to your kids on a particularly stressful day.
Your neighbors are the most likely candidates to walk in on the tornado that is your house the day before a big presentation at work.
If you live in an apartment building and share walls with your neighbors, well, let’s just say they will learn A LOT about you.
When we don’t feel good enough, all those moments of exposure can be pretty terrifying. It’s easier to stay strangers and bury our heads in the sand.
The high risk of exposing our warts is why being a good neighbor must begin as an inside job.
Growing up, all my neighbors were family. Neighboring never made its way into my consciousness until Craig and I moved in together. Craig’s best friend lives just an empty lot away from us. You can see from our laundry room window into theirs. Our backyards look out onto the same lake. When I do yoga on the porch at 5 am, my neighbor waves as she walks the back porch soothing her fussy grandson.
From the first moment I dropped anchor here, I was connected with two strangers, by both geography and shared history, and it wasn’t easy for me. For the first time in my life I wondered what the neighbors would think if I walked outside in my nightgown or chased my boys around in the yard.
After three years living next door to Craig’s best friends--now my friends too--I’ve learned that there are three essential ingredients for open-hearted neighboring...
Whether or not being neighborly comes naturally to you, it comes down to how you feel about yourself. If you feel like you are enough, you will be able to separate fear from reality, set healthy boundaries, and be a neutral safe place for all.
Let’s look at why open-hearted neighboring is inside work:
The biggest fear most of us have about being friendly with the neighbors comes from a fear of judgement. We are afraid that our flaws will condemn us, usually because we are judging the flaws of others.
Think about it this way, if you hear your neighbor impatiently yelling at her son while she jockeys him into the house--arms laden with groceries and backpacks--do you offer to help or assume she’s a terrible mother?
Be honest. Most of us roll our eyes and assume she needs to read a book or two about parenting. Then, we will turn around and worry that she thinks the same thing about us when we repeat the action from our own driveway the next afternoon. If you have children, you’ve probably lost your patience a dozen or more times over the past week. If you don’t have children, insert your husband/dog/cat here.
If you can recognize that you are afraid of the same type of judgement you dole out, then you can break that cycle and be a good neighbor.
If you know that you are good enough, it’s much easier to believe your neighbors are too. If you believe that stressed-out mom is doing the best she can, it’s easier to believe that she will give you the same grace.
Walk across the yard and take her groceries. Leave the judgement at the door. If you can do that for someone else, you’re less likely to feel judged yourself and be more open to making friends with the neighbors.
Once you open the door to a friendship with those who live in close proximity it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by their constant presence.
Being friendly with the neighbors often means you will have company when you want to be alone and it opens up the possibility of constant intrusions into your privacy. Everyone has varying degrees of comfort with this, so it is essential to recognize your own needs and set boundaries early on in the relationship.
Our neighbors, Mark and Marty, have a pool. My boys love to swim and our two families have shared thousands of wonderful moments on their deck. But we have a rule, before we go over to swim we text Marty to see what’s happening in their world before we subject them to two rowdy boys.
On Sundays during football season I open my home to pretty much anyone who wants to eat well, watch a game and celebrate with us. But on weekdays no one crosses the path after 7 pm unless it’s an emergency.
Rigid rules like these may not be your style, but for an introvert like me-- a woman who doesn’t do impromptu plans well--these boundaries allow me to be open with my neighbors while still feeling in control of my space.
Couples fight. Parents and children (particularly teenagers) do too. If you’re going to commune with your neighborhood, learn to make like Switzerland and stay out of it.
Taking sides in an argument will end up burning you, one way or the other. You can be a safe place to go, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on...But never never never take sides. Even when it’s difficult not to, even when you think you know exactly who is right and who is wrong.
Recognizing that our own reactions to other people’s conflicts usually have more to do with us than them can help. Unless abuse is involved, it helps no one for you to take sides or step in--sometimes it doesn’t even then.
If you are afraid for someone’s safety, please involve the proper authorities. In all other cases, stay out of it.
When you build a reputation as a safe and neutral zone your neighbors are more likely to come to you when they need help and you greatly reduce the risk of hurting your relationships with your own judgement.
Maybe, if you find this whole idea of neighboring daunting, the best place to start is with a simple prayer or meditation.
Being a good neighbor begins and ends with the belief that you, in all your flawed glory, are enough. Once you internalize this it will be much easier to make friends with the people who share your walls, your driveway, or your street.
If you--like me--struggle with making friends, try starting with a daily 10-minute meditation or prayer that looks something like this:
Help me to love myself as much as I am called to love my neighbor. Fill me up with love and light until my cup cannot help but run over and into the lives of those around me.
Sometimes we have to step back and be neighborly with ourselves before we have the bandwidth to be neighborly with anyone else.
Renia Carsillo is an advocate for whole foods, fierce women and writing yourself strong. Renia spent years being quiet to be successful in business and learned the hard way that financial success matters only if it has purpose. With a strong and often controversial style, Renia writes and cooks for women who are tired of playing it safe. She is the author of three books, including her recently released memoir, BornHungry. Today she writes and coaches women about body image, eating for pleasure, and living with moxie at bearealbeauty.com.
Renia can usually be found with a spatula in one hand and a pen in the other. She hasn't decided yet which is the better compass for lost days. Geta free copy of the BeA Real Beauty 30-Day Meal Planning Guidehere.
This post is part of the 31 Days of Neighboring Series.