“I encourage you to get out and meet someone new, perhaps in a new interest group, or text, call, visit someone you have lost contact with. It’s good for your health and it’s good for democracy.”
My one-year-old Goldendoodle, Reuben, has been with me since he was two months old. Since I live in a condominium with no yard, we take frequent walks through my neighborhood. I’ve learned a lot from him in these months together. I have never been a go-out-and-meet-and-greet-your-neighbors type of person. But we have learned together that most people are nice and friendly and we assume that they are until proven otherwise. That goes for dogs too. They greet us with smiles (or wags) as we make our rounds and ask how we are, where have we been, is it hot enough for us and other queries that show we share common ideas and conventions. Sometimes we talk about visiting grandchildren or ailing family members or share gardening or shopping tips.
We also know that being outside and active feels better than sitting in the house. We especially like going places where we meet other people, especially children. It makes me think of the “third place” concept, i.e., places other than home and work where we feel accepted and safe. For some people, this is their church or bridge group. Our favorite Third space is Bell Tower Park where we meet people from all over the county and visitors to Salisbury. Our community is rich in such spaces with a multitude of parks for walking, picnicking, or just sitting and listening to the birds. We find when we are out walking on trails that people often stop to talk. Where are you from? What brought you here? Have you been to…. ? I also think of the library as a third place, although Reuben doesn’t have a library card, so can’t accompany me there. I often run into friends, or make new ones as I’m browsing or attending one of the great events that are held there.
Why would any of this matter to anyone else? I think that what I have earned is that community is important. It is important for us individually and for our city and our country.
Over 20 years ago, Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone in which he chronicles the decline of civic engagement and social connectedness in the late 20th-century United States and highlights the importance of renewing these forms of what he identifies as social capital for the sake of individual, societal, and democratic health. We tend now to live in bubbles, talking to and meeting with fewer people and engaging less in activities and events that bring us in contact with the larger community. The harm of this to us personally is acknowledged when doctors now routinely ask if we have regular social contacts and scales of risk for dementia, depression, and heart disease similarly show the importance of such contact. The harm to the larger community is that we have come to separate ourselves from others who don’t agree with our lifestyle or politics, sometimes seeing them as “the other” who is our enemy.This is a serious threat to our democracy.
I am a political minority in my neighborhood. We don’t talk politics in our casual conversations, but given the sign in my window and the messages on my T-shirts, my political bent is pretty clear. No one has shunned me or left nasty messages for me. I think they simply see Reuben and me as the neighbors. I encourage you to get out and meet someone new, perhaps in a new interest group, or text, call, visit someone you have lost contact with. It’s good for your health and it’s good for democracy.
“Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.