To some people, the word ‘neighbour’ brings to mind friendly conversation and invitations to chai on rainy evenings. Others may envision American sitcoms featuring apartments full of people who don’t lock their doors and friendly faces always ready to provide the perfect (unsolicited) advice just when you need it most. But in reality these occurrences aren’t as common as they were even a decade prior — these days, people can go years without even exchanging words with their neighbours. But does this mean that the act of ‘being neighbourly’ is a thing of the past? Not at all. The concept has simply adapted to the 21st century.
Past and Present
In previous decades, being neighbourly was all about being present and active in your immediate community. This could mean anything from unplanned visits to friends, or community-wide events like parties, festivals, or fairs. These events emphasized connections based on conversation and common experience. Today, however, being neighbourly is more about the effect of your individual behaviour on community interactions. Simply put, how do your actions affect the people around you? Multiple studies have shown that younger generations believe that a good neighbour is one who is courteous, who follows the rules, and who is aware of their personal impact on the world. Of course, this isn’t to say that the residents of the 21st century don’t value interpersonal interactions. They’re just a bit more choosy about whom they stop to chat with versus whom they simply exchange smiles in passing. This difference in attitude can be traced back to a shift in the values and culture of today’s homeowners.
Living in the Digital Age
The 21st century has created a marked change in the way people interact with each other, on both a local and global scale. The rapid expansion of technological innovation over the past two decades has been a driving factor of this change. Nowadays it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with people despite geographical boundaries. Digital friends have become just as dear to most people as the ones who live down the road. But this advancement in tech has its downsides, including an increase in surveillance that has made privacy a precious commodity. The need to be cautious has driven us to become more insular. All of this makes it much harder to randomly shoot the breeze over a cup of coffee with your neighbour in the morning.
Another big change is that life moves at a much faster pace. People have longer workdays and much less free time, which has lead to greater exhaustion –– both physical and mental –– than in previous eras. Jobs are also more demanding, and people tend to move much more often than their ancestors, usually to meet the requirements of the job market. A population constantly on the move doesn’t see the value in investing the time it takes to truly get to know one’s neighbour. Instead, people consider it more important that everyone does their bit in the neighbourhood, to work towards a harmonious community.
How to be a Good Neighbour
Being neighbourly in the digital age is all about finding a balance between being friendly and giving your neighbours their space. And you can do this on an individual level, by simply being conscious of how your actions affect the people around you. Here are some simple things you can do that your neighbours will thank you for.
- Follow the guidelines set by the Homeowner’s Association to the best of your ability. The rules and guidel.ines set by this committee usually reflect what the residents of the society value. By following the rules, you make it easier for yourself and your neighbours to live hassle-free lives
- Regulate your small talk. Nobody likes an awkward conversation, but sometimes we feel pressured into talking to our neighbors because we’re stuck in the same place for a while. A lift for example. You may think it’s impolite not to strike up a conversation during the ride, but if you don’t know the person well, your attempts at small talk might put both of you in an uncomfortable position. Instead, a simple smile and hello can be a good way to gauge whether the other person is open to conversation. If yes, feel free to chat. If not, maybe companionable silence is the better option.
- Attend neighbourhood events. Festivals, melas, and other events go a long way to help you feel rooted in the community. They’re also the best way to get to know your neighbours better and help you feel more comfortable talking to them in passing. Even a 5-minute chat at a neighbourhood fair can give you a nice starting point for a conversation the next time you meet.
- Be proactive on the group chat. Most societies have a WhatsApp group or some kind of online forum for their residents to raise grievances or share advice. Getting involved in these spaces by sharing your knowledge or offering solutions to the problem is a great way to be more involved with your neighbourhood. The best part is it requires minimal effort on your end, but still allows you to make meaningful contributions to the community.
Being neighbourly in the 21st century is not about removing the traditions of the past, but about adapting them to the present. Humans have always been social creatures, and we will always want to form connections with the people around us. These days we just have different ways to do so. Community bonds today are built on respect and conscientiousness first of all — the dinner parties and deep conversations are just a bonus.