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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Beacon Bits - Neighbor-to-Neighbor

Last week, my new neighbors moved in to their home. I knew what day they were coming and decided to be “old-fashioned” by greeting them at their door with a bag of goodies (cheese, crackers, grapes, two-bite brownies, cold beer and bottled water) while the movers were finishing up with the last few boxes. It felt like a neighborly thing to do and it seemed to make them feel as good as it made me feel. It made me think about the concept of “neighborship” that I had been focusing on over the last year because of experiences I’ve had in relationship to ‘being a good neighbor.’

Hubris aside, I thought I had come up with a new word, “neighborship”. However, since I made assumptions when I started this blog last month without first checking if any existing blogs had been named “Beacon Bits” (only to discover that there were other people who like to play on words), I realized I should at least google the word to see if it was original or not. I found that “neighborship” was defined as ‘the state of being neighbors” (noun) in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary and that there was also a social networking website that facilitates ‘neighborship’ (http://www.neighborship.com/nh/). The simple definition offered in Webster’s focused primarily on propinquity, the state of living close by and having an attraction because of one’s proximity to a neighbor. This seemed to be a passive act and not what I had been thinking about when I previously thought I coined the phrase, “neighborship.”  So while the word isn’t original, my definitions for neighborship seemed to be focused on active engagement and the quality of relating to neighbors, as follows.

Neighborship (verb): (1) the act of building (giving and receiving) social support in everyday contact with individuals within one’s own neighborhood; (2) a state of kindness, generosity and extension of emotional or instrumental social support with one’s neighbors; (3) practicing the Golden Rule amongst neighbors; (4) the art of crafting relationships with one’s neighbors when friends and family are not available (physically or emotionally); (5) the state of friendship or kinship with a neighbor without the implied intimacy or shared personal history.

My act of kindness or implementation of the Golden Rule with my new neighbors felt right to me because it intuitively made sense that offering food in the midst of moving was comforting, welcoming and simply met some basic needs during a stressful time of transition and hectic activity. It was an initial act of neighborship.

In my google search, I also found a transcript of the NPR show recently aired on July 4, 2011 on All Things Considered: The Key to Disaster Survival? Friends and Neighbors. A researcher, Daniel Aldrich of Purdue University, has been studying how neighbors are frequently the first responders as they reach out to help one another during crises such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 tsunami and the earthquake in Kobe. People handing out blankets and water or directing others to get assistance were engaged in neighborly acts; those individuals with the larger social networks were frequently the most protected during disasters. The strength of the relationships and previous involvement within the community appeared to be an inoculation against the immediate effects of the disaster for specific individuals.

This made sense in light of my definition of neighborship; the common theme of social support and reciprocity were from the psychology literature. The occurrence of individual researchers or academics coming to similar conclusions without having contact or communication with each other is common when evidence from systematic observation builds across a variety of contexts. My phenomenological thoughts on neighborship appear to be grounded and validated by Professor Aldrich’s field research.
Originally, I was not thinking of neighborship in terms of a being saved in a disaster, but rather, how the daily interactions and social support with one’s neighbors decreases stress, enhances quality of life and overall physical and emotional health, and builds resilience. In this overwhelming global state of affairs, we may all need a bit of local comfort. So why not really reach out to our neighbors? Furthermore, here’s some food for thought for Beaconites: practicing neighborship may be bolstered by the reality that we are in the peak fatality zone of Indian Point. While advocating to close it down (http://www.ipsecinfo.org/;Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, 1-888-474-8848), it just might be in our best interest to start building trust with our neighbors and to begin crafting supportive relationships with those who just may become the best and only evacuation plan being offered in case of a nuclear disaster in the Hudson River Valley. Falling short of such a disaster, the practice of neighborship will only bring our community closer together.
Beacon Falls on Fishkill Creek



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