Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What is Neighbourliness?

According to a paper by UK think-tank Smith Institute, it not ‘heroic forms of help and support’ but ‘small and unremarkable actions and behaviour that give people a sense that they are secure and at home in their own places’.

Neighbours do not need to be best friends. Keeping an eye on each other’s property, exchanging greetings and not make too much noise late at night are small things we can do for each other.

Perhaps neighbourliness has receded because we are no longer so reliant on one another. My mother has to ask the family next door to keep watchful on me and my siblings when she went to work because we could not afford a nanny.

These days, with many more resources, there is much less need to go next door for help.

But as the population ages, that proximity will become important. More than anyone else, elderly people who live alone and are no longer as mobile as before, need their neighbours.

Neighbourliness is a balance of reciprocity and altruism. People look out for each other not only because they expect the same in return but also because they gain satisfaction from knowing they can help. Old people do not want to be dependent on others, but interdependent.

How can we promote neighbourliness? One correlation is age and length of residence. Older neighbourhoods tend to have stronger bonds, so perhaps we should work on long terms ties. In the end, though, a good neighbour is something we choose to be.

Neighbourliness can also be a background of routine convivial exchanges such as greetings or brief chats over the garden fence or in the street.

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