Every so often we have a visitor who comes to our front door , rings the doorbell and has some questions for us to answer. If you live in the Washington area , you have most likely had the same experience. The person on the porch is a government investigator who is doing a background check on a neighbor who lives close by, most likely on your very street. The person who is being investigated or inquired about is not in any sort of trouble but he or she is applying for a job with a government agency or organization and as part of the hiring process and background check , an individual is sent out to that person’s sphere of contacts to ask questions and the neighbors are part of the population that is supposed to have some knowledge concerning the person being investigated.

 

     I used the phrase “supposed to” in regards to knowing the person in question because in the society we live in today , it is simply an accurate statement to say that in our neighborhoods today, it is not a given that we are familiar with the family next door. We are not only not close to our neighbors, but in all probability, we do not even know our neighbors well enough to honestly answer a series of specific questions about them for someone doing a back ground check. I remember well such an incident that occurred about six months ago. A man knocked on our door, introduced himself and explained that he just wanted to ask some questions about the man who lived across the street , just one door down from us...in other words, just catty corner across the street. This is the house that I see every day when I leave to go somewhere in my car, it is one of two homes that I immediately see when I look out of our front windows and yet I was embarrassed to admit to his man who needed some answers that I really did not know my neighbor at all. I didn’t even know his name. I wave to him and nod and smile when I see him out front or in his drive way. I know that he has some sons, two I think that are in their late teens or early twenties. I do not ever recall seeing his wife, maybe once or twice in the last five years or so. I do remember seeing one of the sons at the county fair two summers ago and we sort of half waved to each other as we walked past one another on the fair grounds that particular evening. However that is the extent to which I really know this neighbor and it is not too much different with the rest of the folks on our street. We do know our neighbors that live on either side of us. We know their names, where they work, their kids’ names and we chat about the weather, the yard work,  new outdoor projects and so forth but the talk is all very much on the surface. All of us have lived here on the same street for many years so none of us have the excuse of a short period of time accounting for the reason that none of our families truly know one another.  I would like very much to think that we are the exception but I have a sad, sneaky feeling that we are not. Most of my friends that I talk to have admitted to me that their situation with their neighbors is almost identical to what I have just described. This  disconnect that we feel is not just felt in the neighborhood; it is also prevalent in many work situations and environments. Folks work 40, 50, sometimes 60 hours a week or more with others for years without really getting to know them. Oh, they know each other in the work environment so they know each others’ capabilites, work ethic, habits, talents, competence level and other factors, but how well do they really know that person? Do they know each other for who each person is inside? Do they know one another’s likes and preferences, their beliefs, their convictions, their values, their dreams, who they truly are ? I am not trying to be negative here, but I venture to say that we do not. In many ways, we have become an anonymous society. We are not interacting with others on a deeper, more meaningful level and the ramifications are huge. There is more depression and despondency today than in any generation before us and studies and surveys indicate that this is directly linked to folks feeling alone, disconnected and isolated in their every day lives. We are more busy, more active, and moving at a more frenetic pace compared to past generations yet there is a void that cries out in the midst of it all. Folks, we simply were not created to live and function independently of one another. There is a real need in each of us to connect and belong to others and to be known. I touched on this in an earlier blog entitled “Wilson is the Star” as I referred to the face painted volleyball in the movie Castaway. Tom Hanks becomes intensely attached to this volleyball as he has been physically and emotionally deserted and is in the fight of his life to simply survive. He maintains his sanity as he is able to use this volleyball as his only friend that keeps his mind and his spirit alive and hanging on until he is eventually rescued. The ironic difference between the struggle of many today however and the struggle of this man trying to survive in this movie is that our anonymity is self imposed and can be prevented whereas the castaway’s was not. He was a victim of a plane crash and his isolation was unavoidable. For many living their every day lives in today’s society, their anonymity is crushing. It is insidious. It has slowly and subtly crept into their lives like a slow moving cloud or aroma that is not tangible yet they just know that they are miserable because of it. Many do not live close to extended family and they are spending most of their time and effort commuting to work to make money to pay the bills. Their spare time is often committed to maintaining the home and yard on weekends which brings them to the next Monday, the next work week and the cycle begins all over again. These folks are existing, they are functioning, but are they inwardly thriving? These are the real questions that need to be asked and attended to but rarely are.

 

        My readers at this juncture may be wholeheartedly in agreement but may be asking themselves as I often ask myself what the answer is. It will be difficult, but I honestly believe that key is to decide to combat anonymity at every turn. It means when we see the names of folks on their apparel whether it is a server at a restaurant, or a clerk at a store or the mechanic at the service station, we need to use the name of that person when talking to them. We also need to ask them how their day is going, where they are from, how long have they lived here, do they have a home church? We need to start asking our neighbors over for dinner and really attempt to get to know them. Some of them may be quite stunned since it will be the first invitation that they have received from us in fifteen to twenty years. I do believe though that the reward of satisfaction that we will derive from trying to combat this crushing anonymity will be worth it.

 

          When I grew up it was a different world. All of the parents would sit outside together in the evenings while the kids played kickball on the street or spud in the front yards. I knew all of the other children and their parents and all of my friends knew mine as well. I remember calling many of the other parents “Uncle so and so and Aunt so and so” because we were all so familiar and close. We had memorial day parades where all of the kids decorated their bicycles with streamers and the dads were the judges and the moms all baked goodies and we had neighborhood parties on a regular basis. We may not be able to return to those days but if each of us as an individual purposes to start connecting in every way possible, we might be surprised at what will happen. It will require us to voluntarily move out of our comfort zone. It won’t always be convenient and definitely will not be easy, but nothing that is worthwhile ever is. Reach out today and make a difference.