power in words and pictures

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

“Imagine what our real neighbors would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person. Sometimes, all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. Think of the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone. One kind empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”
― Fred Rogers

When I was a young girl, I remember my mother trying to teach me to skip a rock on the water. It was fascinating to me to see how a rock could bounce across the water. She was really good at it. My rock often sank until I got the hang of the way to flick my wrist. Equally fascinating was the way ripples were created on the water by the one little stone’s touch on the surface. Fred Rogers knew a lot about ripples, being a good neighbor, and the impact one single word could have on a person. I think it’s a little like the way my rocks all sank in the beginning — being a good neighbor might take a little practice before you get it right, but once you do, it can mean something wonderful.

“I bought tickets to a movie, and I’m hoping you’ll want to go with me,” I announced to my husband. I had just seen that the Mr. Rogers documentary had almost finished its run at the theatre, and I knew I couldn’t miss it. I find myself looking for any opportunity to laugh and smile and feel better. I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and as the trolley whistled, I found myself taken back to a simpler time. Fred Rogers had an uncanny knack for teaching lessons about interacting with the people in our neighborhoods. Whether it was King Friday and all of his rules, Mr. McFeely delivering the mail, or Officer Clemmons keeping the neighborhood safe, Mr. Rogers knew and interacted with them all in both the make-believe and the genuine neighborhood. Isn’t that what a neighbor should do?

When we moved to a small town shortly after we were married, a knock came at the door by a young woman named Roben. Showing up with a bag of goodies from local businesses, she was able to let me know where I could shop with friendly merchants, each having contributed a small gift to encourage me to do business with them.  Being made to feel at home immediately, the memory of her visit has remained one of my fondest. There was no such service in our next town, so I simply tried to do for myself what she had done and created our own community within our new ‘neighborhood’. Making time to greet the neighbors we saw on the street, chatting with the neighbors in our pew at church, and offering a kind word to the neighbor at the next table in a restaurant, I tried to create a ripple of good in life.

First, let’s clarify who our neighbors might be:

  • people who live near us
  • people sitting near us at an event, a restaurant, an office, the classroom
  • towns bordering ours
  • states bordering ours
  • countries bordering ours

Second, let’s spell out the basics of being a good neighbor:

  • welcome newcomers and say hello to old-timers when you see them
  • live by the Golden Rule, treating your neighbor the way you hope they will treat you
  • do not judge a neighbor based on the way they or their home look
  • extend a hand to help when it’s needed — offer to pick up the mail or water the plants for a neighbor who will be out of town, take food if you know a neighbor is sick, visit when you and a neighbor are both outside
  • be considerate of your noise level — that’s in a neighborhood or if you have a neighbor at school or in a restaurant
  • create opportunities for those who want to do more than wave in passing to gather together
  • My personal favorites:
    • obey leash laws and clean up after your dog
    • walk on the left-hand side of the street (really, this will make you an especially good neighbor)

How you choose to treat your neighbor is probably the same way they’ll treat you when you most need them. That goes for our neighboring countries and towns as much as our actual neighborhoods. At a time when we hear a lot about the unkindnesses of people, this is an excellent time to find common ground with those nearest us.

Start with just one word. Say hello and smile. Just one kind word can have a ripple effect, and couldn’t we all use a little ripple of kindness?

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