Giving Up My OfficeOctober 5, 2021
Renewal in the Coming YearDecember 1, 2021
Mr. Rogers Got It Right
Who didn’t feel good when visiting Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood?
He invited all of us, children and adults, to join him as he explored his neighborhood. He created a sense of community which helped us to feel welcome, safe, nurtured and supported. When we do this in our own neighborhoods, we feel part of a larger whole. Whether we live with our family, friends or alone, everyone benefits from a community — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
As we consider our neighborhoods, we can pay attention to what each of us can do to create a community where we build on the elements of kindness, safety, support, and interest. It seems like a no-brainer but becoming involved in some activity or project that resonates with our values and sense of purpose is a good place to begin.
We need not wait for an invitation to become part of something. If we are new to the community, or if we are in the same community but our life circumstances have changed, we can reach out and get to know our neighbors. There are some communities where signs welcoming a new family or a new tenant are prominently placed on the front lawns or in the windows or on the doors of apartment hallways. It is a way to say: “Glad you are here.”
There are communities where new people are welcomed by groups of neighbors who invite the family to their homes or to a hallway / block party so that others can greet them. It is a way to say: “We want to get to know you.”
How lovely this can be.
If you are wondering why the welcome wagon did not stop at your house, it may be that it is not the culture of your neighborhood. Or, maybe everyone is busy. Or, perhaps, they keep putting off a good intention. There are myriad reasons. If you want to meet your neighbors, ring their doorbell and say “Hi.” Or write a note and introduce yourself. Whatever works. Worrying about why others did not come to you is a waste of time.
Last year, I moved to a new neighborhood. Granted, I moved during COVID so ringing the doorbells of strangers’ homes or inviting people into mine was not an option. However, I was able to walk outdoors and say “Hi” when I passed someone. On occasion, I mentioned that I was new to the area. Some people seemed interested and others not. Over time, I recognized people (even behind their masks). I liked seeing newly-familiar faces. Mostly, I recognized which dogs belonged to which people. I do think it says something that I know more dogs’ names than people’s names — I am working on that. But at least we say “Hi” and often add a comment about the weather. Given where I moved from, a neighborhood where I barely saw anyone, I think this is great.
That is, until recently, when I visited a friend who moved to a new neighborhood in a new state, where she knew no one. She refers to it as “Mayberry.” In my mind she landed well.
Her neighborhood reminds me of where I grew up.
Everyone knows everyone. Why? They make an effort to greet each other and when they can, have a brief chat. As people pass one another’s driveway, they say “Hi.” Sometimes, that leads to sitting on someone’s porch or in their living room, just hanging out. It is a neighborhood with people of all ages. Everyone helps everyone else during snowstorms or hurricanes or when a dog or cat goes missing. People seem genuinely interested in one another’s well-being without seeming intrusive or nosey. It may be a false sense of security, but I don’t think so.
Since I returned home, I have thought about this a lot. I witnessed how my friend thrives in her environment with “neighbors who were once strangers.” Now they are caring acquaintances, and some have clearly become her friends.
I like that. I strongly believe that we all benefit when we live in an intergenerational, multicultural community. I also believe that wherever we live, we have a responsibility to reach out to others and show kindness. It doesn’t take much. Well actually, it does. It takes a willingness to notice who is right in front of us and to recognize that we are all connected because of our humanity. That is hard to do when our faces are looking down into our phones. We need to want to be open to the opportunity of engaging with another person. A kind greeting can lead to a lovely conversation and that can make all of the difference in building a community. When we are kind to others, we are kind to ourselves.
In the Harvard Study of Adult Development over 724 men were studied to try to discover what makes a good life and what contributes to happiness. “The clearest message,” says Robert J. Waldinger, the director of the study, “that we get from this (then) 75-year intergenerational study about happiness is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” Social connections are good for us. Loneliness is toxic. The quality of close relationships is a very important factor to our happiness. Those of us who have warm relationships and let go of grudges seem to fare better than those who live in high conflict relationships and hang onto and invest in their negative feelings and need to be right. People who are in the most satisfied relationships are the healthiest. Good relationships protect our bodies and our brains. And, “the strong influence of neighbors suggests that the spread of happiness might depend more on frequent social contact than deep social connections.”
Hmmm. Frequent social contact. The other day I walked at our local park. I greeted a woman whom I have seen before as she often walks with her adult daughter. We began talking as we were walking. Before long we were engaged in a meaningful conversation. What a sweet surprise. Being available and being open offered me this gift. My 45-minute walk turned into a 45-minute visit with someone who may be a new friend. Whether or not we become friends, though, is not the issue. She is someone I will see again. And along with our next greeting will be a feeling of shared experience and connection.
And as for my other neighbors, I look forward to getting to know them, in a way that is a bit more personal than offering a casual “Hi.” I look forward to being surprised by whom I will meet. If this idea resonates with you, we all might consider waking up each day and asking ourselves: “I wonder what opportunity will come my way today if I greet a person I don’t know well (or at all). Perhaps I will be able to contribute a touch of kindness to this day.” By being curious and open to the possibility of contributing, in even a small way, to a sense of connection within our community is a most worthwhile endeavor.
Thriving In (not just surviving) Your Next Family Gathering and Keeping the Peace
Sometimes our family gatherings seem to be a magnet that invites some of us to resume familiar, and often unproductive dynamics that contribute to tension rather than harmony.
What we sometimes forget is that we are unlikely to change others but we can change ourselves. We can change our attitude, our responses, and we can focus on the positive aspects of being together. Now more than ever, there is a great need for mostly everyone to develop strategies for staying out of sticky situations at the one time of the year when people who share a lot of the same genetic material get together.
Tips to think about:
- Reframe Your Hope: When we gather with family and hope for things to go smoothly, we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. Set reasonable expectations (which likely means trying to have NO expectations). Before family get-togethers, you can spend some time alone and acknowledge what you hope would happen; you can even visualize it. However, be kind to yourself and be prepared that the scene in your mind may not be the scene at the family table. Prepare to accept that people’s behaviors may not change but that your attitude about what is going on can change. Think of areas of conversation that you would like to explore that may be new to the family and will get people talking about family history, personal experiences, or memories that can be shared without setting someone up for hurt feelings. Find a way to deal with your own expectations and emotions if events play out as they have in the past.
- Set Your Boundaries: Accepting that family members may be their usual selves can help you decide how much contact you can handle. Recognize that there may be particular family members with whom you have difficulty. Others may be better to be with in a group setting. Try to determine ahead of time what your boundaries will be and think through potential scenarios and solutions.
- Accept that You Cannot Change People. We can avoid getting caught in other people’s drama, however. Release the desire to either control them or fix a situation they do not think needs fixing. Remember who you are and what are your true values and code of behavior. It is a waste of energy to attempt to change someone else’s values. Instead, know what you feel and think and keep it close to your heart. We are entitled to our own thoughts and feelings. And we can control our actions.
- Be a Participant Observer: You are both a participant in a group, feeling and experiencing what is happening, as well as watching and observing yourself and others in the group. Sometimes, keeping ourselves both inside and outside can help us avoid getting entangled in the drama.
- Write Your Thoughts and Feelings about what happened and, if helpful, schedule a debriefing session with someone you love and trust: Perhaps a close friend or a therapist can help to gain insight about what you can learn from the encounter. It’s a good idea to reconnect with someone soon after challenging family experiences so that annoyances don’t evolve into larger emotional destabilization.
The goal is to develop healthy and realistic strategies for minimizing the damage from tricky family gatherings, integrate what you experienced, and return to your life with these new insights.
What would happen if we opened our senses to wonder as a way to feed our spirit? How would we be changed if we intentionally focused on what we see, hear, touch, smell? The fall colors are in full regalia in much of the country. Birds are hopping from tree to tree; kids are riding their bikes, river water runs over rocks, sunsets provide a palate that does not look real…yet it is, and the autumn moon is so close that it is possible to actually see its surface crevices.
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel