CommunityThursday, Jul 7, 2016 · 1100 words · approx 6 mins to read
I don’t know my neighbours. I live on a little street that has nowhere to go when you enter it from the top, so the number of people who have a legit reason to walk past my house are the handful of folks in the other three houses after mine, before the dead end, plus whatever visitors or delivery folks infrequently show up.
I know my immediate neighbours on the right by name, but not the couple on the left. One of the ladies a couple of doors down loves my dogs, but I’ve no real idea who she is. Her daughter knows my dogs by name, but we don’t know each other’s. We all wave and sometimes chat about the weather, but that’s about it. There are people I’ve lived near for years now that I’ve never spoken to. I’ve said more words to my Amazon delivery person than to some folks I’ve seen most days for the last 3 years.
It’s a stark contrast to what it was like when I was growing up. I knew everyone around where I lived as a kid, adults and kids and my friends alike. I knew them all by first names, even the grown ups. I knew what they did. Mr. and Mrs. Hossack were retired. Babs drove one of the school buses. When I broke my ankle, she used to take me to school in it. It was a yellow bus, for the kids that needed extra help. Even though when I got to school I never really spoke to those kids, we were still friends because we got the same bus together.
Nowadays, if you get on a bus and start talking to new people, you’re considered weird. If I was to walk two doors up on my street to the house where there’s a lovely 996-gen Porsche 911 Carrera 2, to talk about it with the guy who owns it, he’d wonder what planet I’d just come from. He lives less than 100ft away from me and has done for years, but we’ll probably never even say hi. We definitely won’t talk about his great taste in cars.
There are other dog owners on the street, but we’ve never acknowledged our shared love of man’s best friend, never mind our shared existence in this quiet little bit of Abbots Langley. Why am I lamenting that I live a lonely life in this otherwise really nice little village?
Mostly because of Brexit, I guess. I feel like something’s changed in the UK over the last 20 years or so, where community doesn’t mean as much to people as it used to. I think there are a lot of reasons why, running the gamut from societal to global (there’s no World War to unite us like we had in the first half of the 20th century) to financial to geographical to a great many others, most of which I haven’t even come close to understanding or rationalising.
I feel like those changes in how we live now, that make us have more solitary lives in general, despite being surrounded by more people than ever before on average, have contributed to how we voted. At least I feel that way. I feel like there’s a reasonably strong correlation between getting by in life mostly by ourselves these days, to feeling like we can get by OK as a nation mostly by ourselves.
So I’ve been wondering if our lost sense of community, where we used to know everyone around where we lived — and I’m reasonably certain that wasn’t just a fluke of where I grew up — is partly responsible for our lost sense of community with Europe.
My mind instantly wandered to how I could turn that around. How can I get to know my neighbours better, and then maybe my wider community? Especially without being the weird guy that lives in the close that randomly reached out to everyone and why the fuck is he doing that. That I even care about whether my nearest community of other humans thinks I’m weird is the perfect manifestation of what I think is wrong.
Or at least what I’ve convinced myself is wrong.
I’ve thought about writing a little letter to everyone nearby, that fits on a single page of A4, that I can fold up and post through everyone’s letterbox to introduce myself, without having to do it in person. I tell them a bit about myself, and that I want to know my neighbours better, and they can come to me if they want to reciprocate. Sounds good, right?
Hi, I’m Ryszard (Polish spelling of Richard!), but I go by Rys (“Riss”, if want to go with that over Richard). I’ve lived at number 6, down near the bottom of the close, for the last few years, and I feel weird that I don’t know you all better. I work with computers and smartphones for a living, so if you need a hand with something computer related I can probably lend one.
I’ve got three small dogs — sorry if you’ve ever heard them barking, especially while I’m away at work during the day, or at night when Rosie, the smallest, decides to let the neighbourhood know she’s awake and vigilant. I’m into cars (nice Porsche, guy at number 4!), flying remote control things (sorry I bumped my quad into your car that day, girl at number 3!), and I run a little business in my spare time doing computer things.
Isn’t it weird that we don’t know each other better? Maybe you all know each other and I’m the one that’s never stopped to say hello, but I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one in this boat. Maybe we can all meet one day and get introduced properly. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get in touch.
Maybe I’ll print that a few times, fold it up and push it through letterboxes (in the dark, so nobody really sees me, terrified of actual human interaction). Maybe I won’t. Probably I won’t.
Maybe I’ll mix in some modern communications technology. A Facebook group, perhaps. Or maybe some not-so-modern tech like a mailing list. email@example.com feels low friction and doable.
Maybe I won’t.
Regardless of what I do, at least I’ve written it down. Community feels dead to me here in the UK and I wonder if it needs to come back for us to really fix what’s wrong, regardless of what side you sit on.