“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood / A beautiful day for a neighbor / Would you be mine? / Could you be mine?” — Fred Rogers
I’ll let you in on a secret—I used to love watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid (and still do sometimes as an adult, too!)
You’re probably familiar with the song he used to sing (quoted above) about his neighborhood and being neighbors.
It’s nostalgic for me.
I grew up in a small farming community in Michigan.
We lived on ten acres, and the kids living in the houses next door were the kids my sister and I played with growing up.
Our families lived together the entire time we kids were growing up, and all our parents are still neighbors to this day.
We were the kind of neighbors where you could borrow a cup of sugar from each other if you were in the middle of making cookies and realized you didn’t have enough.
We watched each other’s houses and pets while the others were on vacation.
I enjoyed having neighbors like that.
The Problem With the Modern Day Neighborhoods
I live in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky.
When my husband and I moved our family, it was our first experience living in a neighborhood and not in the country.
For Christmas the first year, my daughters and I made cookies to pass out to the houses around us.
I thought it would be a great way to connect with the neighbors, but it didn’t go exactly as I planned.
Most people were reluctant to open their doors to us, and only a couple of them seemed appreciative of the gift.
The rest seemed bothered and suspicious of us.
I’ll be honest; that was the last time we made cookies for our neighbors.
Why modern neighborhoods are different than the past
It bothers me that neighbors aren’t that “neighborly” anymore.
In fact, it bothers me to the point that I’ve done some research and had a few conversations with others about why this is happening, and there are a few common themes that keep showing up.
Here are some of the thoughts that have been shared with me or I’ve stumbled upon in books:
Garage Door Openers
Most people don’t even get out of their car when they get home from work until they are in their garage with the door shut.
There is no friendly wave and small talk with your neighbor as you check the mail and head to the front door.
Instead, we sneak into our homes just hoping that no one will catch us and engage us in conversation.
Before the days of A/C, people used to go outside on hot summer days to cool down.
Once everyone was outside, they started talking to each other, and neighbors knew one another and their families.
With most homes having air conditioning now, there isn’t a reason to go outside to cool off.
In fact, most people are trying to keep their curtains closed to keep the sun—and the neighbors—out.
Sitting on front porches have been replaced with elaborate back decks where families spend their time.
Instead of waving at neighbors from your porch, you sit out back to drink your coffee or sip your sweet tea in peace and quiet.
Technology Changing How We Connect
The internet and cell phones make it easier than ever to connect with our friends and family, which makes some people feel that it’s not as necessary to connect with others in close proximity.
We can be friends with people who are halfway around the world, so we don’t feel that urge to connect with the person next door.
While I hate to see that any of these things are used as excuses for not connecting with neighbors, I understand it at the same time.
But that’s why I was excited to hear about National Good Neighbor Day.
What is National Good Neighbor Day?
National Good Neighbor Day takes place annually on September 28th and began back in the 1970s.
In 1978, Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation that said this:
“As our Nation struggles to build friendship among the peoples of this world, we are mindful that the noblest human concern is concern for others. Understanding, love and respect build cohesive families and communities. The same bonds cement our Nation and the nations of the world. For most of us, this sense of community is nurtured and expressed in our neighborhoods where we give each other an opportunity to share and feel part of a larger family…I call upon the people of the United States and interested groups and organizations to observe such day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
National Good Neighbor Day is a movement to get us connecting with our neighbors again and fostering a strong community around us.
How to Be a Good Neighbor
There are endless ways you can be a good neighbor.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
I know this idea seems too obvious, but I’ll bet some of you reading this have never even said “hello” to your neighbor.
Maybe you give a quick head nod in passing, but you’ve never taken the time to acknowledge them with a spoken word.
This can feel a little intimidating for people, and I understand that.
But it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, which will help you in many areas of life.
Once you get out that first hello, you can work on introducing yourself and starting to make small talk.
Before you know it, you may find things you have in common with your neighbor, which makes it easier to connect in the future.
Give a Helping Hand
Another great way to connect with your neighbors is to offer to help them with something.
A few of the times when I’ve seen neighbors come together the most is in times of severe weather situations.
When living in Michigan, our local area was hit with a massive storm.
It brought down a huge tree that blocked our driveway.
When we went out to survey the damage when the storm was over, all our neighbors were also checking out their yards, which led us to walk to each other’s yards (in the country, our houses were further apart) and talk.
Then, it led us to help each other out in the effort to cut the trees and clear up the yards.
Look around your neighborhood to identify tasks you could help a neighbor complete.
Put Together a Cook Out or Block Party
Few things connect people together as much as food, so invite your neighborhood over to a block party.
Have everyone bring a dish to share and their own drinks to make things easy.
You can even plan a few old-fashioned games for the kids, like three-legged races and a water balloon toss.
Turn it into an annual event, and you’ll at least be able to catch up with the neighbors once a year.
I even heard a story before of a family that began putting a table in their front yard and inviting people to come and dine with them.
It continued to grow, and they were able to connect with those around them in a fun way.
Keep an Eye On Things
One of the great things about having good neighbors is more eyes are helping keep your neighborhood and house safe.
Make sure there aren’t people creeping on your neighbor’s property.
If you know they are headed on vacation, offer to keep an eye on their house.
You can feed their pets, turn their front porch light on at night, and bring their mail inside for them.
They can rest easy on vacation when they know you will get ahold of them if anything happens.
Get Started Today
Remember that talk is cheap.
If you want to begin to transform your neighborhood, it takes action.
And while you may feel alone in the effort at first, the truth is that we all want to be seen and known by those around us.
As you make an effort to be a good neighbor, others will eventually begin to do the same in return.
And as Mr. Rogers says:
“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you / I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you / So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day /Since we’re together, we might as well say / Would you be mine? Could you be mine? / Won’t you be my neighbor?”