Love the folks in front of you–Neighborliness in 2023

In my little book, The Seven Whispers, Spiritual Practice for Times like These, each “whisper” is an instruction that came to me over the course of several months.This is an exploration of one whisper: Love the folks in front of you.

Love the folks in front of you means to develop relationships with the people clustered around our lives: the folks in the apartment hallway, adjacent work cubicles, or up and down the street. We call this neighborliness, and I see it as the foundational building block of community, civility, and sometimes, survival.

Neighborliness is the recognition that we need each other, that we are interdependent, and that local good-will is the foundation for how we navigate where we live and work. Neighborliness is practice in friendliness. Neighborliness is built on little gestures that signal acknowledgement: to wave, to smile and say hello, to open doors and close gates, to compliment one another, to say please and thank you.

A little work party gets us together.

Though not always humming Mr. Rogers’ theme song, I often feel  “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  Neighbors are a motley crew determined by who has bought or rented (or tented) next to one another. This happenstance insures that we will have opportunities to reckon with diversity, division, and difference. A friend who serves on her neighborhood’s HOA (homeowners’ association) board, has a placard on her desk that reads: “Neighbor is not a geographic term, it’s a moral obligation.” Seeing that, everything I believe about the necessity of “Love the folks in front of you,” snapped into focus.

I live at the island edge of the Seattle metropolitan area. My neighborhood has close friends, congenial acquaintances, folks who keep to themselves, folks who think everything should go their way. We have a range of differences and

Neighborliness keeps us out of hot water. Have tea instead.

judgment can burst forth unexpectedly. But here’s the essential question about neighborliness: if I see a need, do I move toward it or away? And here’s my answer: there is no one I would hesitate to help. And the other good news: I think every person in my neighborhood would choose to move toward helping. Mutuality survives our foibles and misunderstandings.

Writing this, I acknowledge it is privilege to live with assumptions of mutual aid. I am awash with grief over our societal disarray, the shouts and insults and prejudice, misuses of power, escalating violence. Families are mourning dead children, siblings, parents.

Carlton Winfrey, an African American journalist, writes in his column after the death of Tyre Nichols, “To convey to those not in my skin the trauma of having another Black man killed by police in America is too much.”  He’s right, I cannot apprehend his pain, the pain of his race, his daily fear that neighborliness has completely broken down—now not only between the races, but within the Black community. Terror. Being beaten to death and not rendered aid. How can “Love the folks in front of you” have any meaning when tasers and fists override pleas for mercy?

We are all in trauma, though only some of us are bloodied. I wish with all my soul that I could even out the imbalances of race, caste, economy, supremacy and redistribute these things into a more just society. I am doing what I can with the size of life and influence I have been given. It’s not enough: it is something. And that is moral obligation: to exert ourselves, to look up, around, greet, pay attention, tend at whatever level of engagement and size our lives are. Maybe it’s a school classroom, or a wing in the nursing home. Be with the folks in front of you. Love anyway. Love anyway you can.

 

26 replies
  1. Roberta sherwood
    Roberta sherwood says:

    Thank you, Christina, for your wisdom. Simple things can create change. How hard is it to be neighborly? I don’t do it often enough, so a great reminder. I do like to think I’d be one who goes toward, not away from, a need if I see it. That has happened for me in my neighborhood, and it feels so comforting. Yes, let us ALL be neighborly no matter how big our “neighborhood” is, world-wide or next door.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      How hard is it to be neighborly is an equally profound question Roberta. Sometimes so easy… sometimes not, but I find in the moment of need so many people override differences and jump in to help.

      Reply
  2. Jana Jopson
    Jana Jopson says:

    Can’t be reminded of this little whisper enough. You lift me up and move me towards the next neighbor. 💚🫂🙏

    Reply
  3. Rebecca Puterbaugh
    Rebecca Puterbaugh says:

    Yes yes yes, I love this 🙏🏼 Growing up in rural Alaska, we were often in connection with our neighbors, helping each other out. I think it’s to our health to resist the new cultural norms of emotional isolation and hyperindividualism. Some of the best connections I’ve had have been neighborly connections. It was lovely to read this first thing in the morning.

    Reply
  4. Brenda Peddigrew
    Brenda Peddigrew says:

    Christina, I still have your little book of the Seven Whispers and your wisdom keeps deepening…thanks so much for your continuing sharing of wisdom…I look forward to all of yours and Anne’s postings…

    Reply
  5. Bruce Baldwin Agte
    Bruce Baldwin Agte says:

    My favorite “whisper” is this sixth one, because it is the most difficult for me. We moved this past year into a neighborhood with a higher density of people whose political views trouble us. More loud pick-up trucks, bright all-night lights, healthy mature trees being cut for sprawling riding-mower lawns. Yet when I cross the road to say hello, I see the eyes of another person, like me, with doubts and fears and their own unique way of love. And just like that, a tiny island of trust to build on….

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Oh Bruce, you are doing the good work, and you are such a good person to be doing it. Thank you. I think the world is held together by exactly these gestures–not captured on cell phone cameras, not posted onto social media with a “look at me” attitude… just people crossing the road. Love to you.

      Reply
  6. Katharine Weinmann
    Katharine Weinmann says:

    Your words, and the comments, immediately brought to mind the new season opening podcast from On Being with Krista Tippett where she and her guest, social psychologist Dacher Keltner, talk about the science of AWE and that “what most commonly led people around the world to feel awe was an experience of other people’s “courage, kindness, strength, or overcoming,” what he calls “moral beauty.”

    He goes on to say, “kindness, courage, overcoming obstacles… You know, saving people’s lives. Just time and time again the most common source of awe is other people. And you wouldn’t think that given what we look at on Twitter and Instagram, but it’s a deep, a deep tendency to choke up and get tears thinking about what people can do.”

    As I read this post and your community who comment, I got choked up with my own tears.

    Thank you for this reminder from one of my most beloved of your books.

    Reply
  7. Diane Ahuna
    Diane Ahuna says:

    Christina,

    Your recent blog was so poignant, most touching to my heart/soul! You said it all..
    for my feelings too.
    More and more of late, I feel crazy, the world is upside down, and inside out…an I stand
    unable to utter a sound it seems. I do what I can, when I can, where I am.

    Reply
    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Diane, doing what you can is all that is required. Hold onto your sanity and sense of soul. Sometimes, well often these days, I have to remind myself–I really do not know what is going on, or what is supposed to be going on in terms of evolutionary growth. Just be here. Be kind. Take care.

      Reply
  8. Sandy Foreman
    Sandy Foreman says:

    Christina, Your whisper about neighborliness brought to mind the book I am currently reading. It is called BRAIDING SWEETGRASS by Robin Wall Kimmerer and discusses many indigenous views of the physical and emotional world around us, which many have forgotten or never realized. We can care for the iiving plants, soil, water and animals as we can for our human neighbors.

    Reply
    • Sandra Marinella
      Sandra Marinella says:

      These are challenging times, and each day the news is filled with ongoing reminders of how horrific we can be to one another. Thank you for your wisdom and important reminder that loving our neighbors matters. While connected to my neighbors, I plan to journal about how I can grow my love for them more fully. I look forward to seeing where this will take me. Much love to you, Christina!

      Reply
  9. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    Thank you for your timely words. I love The Seven Whispers and this was such a wise and gentle reminder. You continue to be such a force for good in the world. In my heart I’ll always think of you as my neighbor. ❤️

    Reply
  10. Anne Stine
    Anne Stine says:

    You remind me that after two months in my new home, which I love, that I have not connected with my neighbors and will do so! As always you remind us to pay attention to what is in our immediate surroundings, within and without. Gratitude, Anne

    Reply
  11. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    It looks like my comment didn’t stick. :-/ But just I love you and your good heart. After seeing the horrific videos of the earthquake, I had to think, with so many natural disasters that devastate communities and bring such grief, there just isn’t room for war and hate. Can’t we all just do better? Starting with our neighbors is a good place to make change. Thank you.

    Reply
  12. Glenda Goodrich
    Glenda Goodrich says:

    Thank you Christina. I live in an inner-city bungalow with a huge apartment complex at the end of the block. My neighbors are diverse in age and race. So many of them–from people who appear houseless to people who appear to be walking to their professional jobs–compliment my front-yard garden. “I love your yard,” they say. I respond with this: “I think that’s why it grows so well, because you all admire it when you walk by, and it likes your appreciation!” I always get a smile back. My garden offers a way for me to connect with people and give them something to feel good about.

    Reply
  13. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    I love this piece, Christina! Living in a big city I have so many neighbors just in one block. I have often said to myself, through the years when I encounter my neighbors, there is a reason why you chose this block that I am on too. And in that thought I hold more valuably what they may be saying and teaching me and vise versa. And, thanks to Frances, and all of our Great Danes throughout these many years, she has not only introduced us to many near and more distant neighbors but she is a wonderful conduit for conversation, oftentimes avoided in a crowded big city. Your writing brought to words, the upmost value of these small parts of our lives that could even be the most important to keeping this country more human, more friendly, and more caring to each other. As always, Thanks, Christina xxx

    Reply
  14. Toni Tabora-Roberts
    Toni Tabora-Roberts says:

    Thank you for this wonderful framing, love the folks in front of you. I am a big believer in the power of building literal neighborhood communities and am blessed to live on a block in NE Portland, Oregon that has developed a closeness that more unique than we wish. And I love the idea of other close people in our lives “folks in front of us” as our neighbors. Already appreciating how that’s permeating my mindset and heart.

    Reply

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