Our neighbours moved out this week. They have been the best neighbours we’ve ever had. They were not drug dealers, or 3am loud music partiers, or V8 Ute revers, or a screaming domestic couple (yes, we’ve had them all). Instead they were a quiet couple about our age with a young son like us, who would say hello at the letterbox. And I’m sad to say that in the last two years we’ve been living next door, we never got to know them.
I recently read Trent Hamm’s book The Simple Dollar (author of the popular blog with the same name) and I was struck by his emphasis on community and building positive relationships. When you build positive relationships, especially with like minded people or people you have something in common with, then you gain not only friendship and opportunities for socialising and fun, but mutual support and encouragement. You have people around you to lend a helping hand in times of need, and likewise you are there for them. You have contact with a wide variety of expertise, people who can offer advice when you need it, people who have been there, done that and can guide you with experience…and give you hand-me-down stuff.
Which brings me back to our neighbours. Four years living on the coast this month and we have hardly met anyone. Yet day in and day out, the lady next door would be trundling her little fella up and down the driveway in the late afternoon, waiting for dad to come home and all it would have taken was for me to pop my head out the door and say hello. And now the opportunity has passed.
Remember when, for better or worse, we all knew our neighbours. When I was a kid, mum would chat over the fence with the lady next door. Garden produce, baking and homebrew would be exchanged, baby-sitting would be offered, and if it rained while mum was out, there was always a neighbour to bring in the washing or vice versa. Dad even cut a removable panel in the fence so that for BBQs a hole would appear in the fence and the kids could play in one yard while the adults sat un-accosted in the other, yet with easy access and visibility.
Now we build higher fences made from brick and cement and install electric gates.
I realise some neighbours aren’t the kind you would want to get to know. We have had some rough ones. But there have also been some surprises. Ironically, some of our best neighbours have been rough-nut, hard drinking ‘ex’ bikie gang members. I remember dad putting his head over the fence once and saying ‘we don’t use that kind of language around here,’ yet that neighbour is still a close family friend, even after moving away.
My point is that despite modern communication devices, sometimes it seems that we have never been so isolated from our community and from the people who live around us. They say that ‘no man is an island’ but I wonder if we have built ourselves our own little islands inside our large and fancy homes and high fences, yet all the while desperately trying to ‘connect’ through Facebook.
I have a friend who will read this and laugh. She makes this point all the time. While I am a huge defender of the internet community and I love my net time, it’s out of balance. It doesn’t seem right to not know the names of our neighbours and be able to at least hold a conversation with the people that we practically live with once in a while.
Part of the frugal philosophy is moving away from multi-national globalisation and instead being involved in our local community. Shop local. Buy local. But maybe the first step in rediscovering our local community is to just shake hands with the people who live next door and say “G’day, my name is Melissa, nice to meet you.”