170: Know Your Neighbors

170: Know Your Neighbors

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I’ve talked about community a lot lately (See Build an In Person Community or Many Hands Make Light Work) but I’m talking about it again because I had an experience last weekend I’d like to share. And talking about community is important because community is the glue that’s going to hold things together if the larger world is falling apart. 

A local community! Yay!

I’ve talked about wanting to start a local community here for awhile. And then I got a message from a friend who told me about a local group that was being formed that I should think about checking out. It took a few gatherings for me to be able to attend because of bear hunting and house renovations, but last weekend I finally attended.

While sitting around that table in my friend’s garage, the group talked about butchering and having canning parties and what to do about security and who was planning to grow what crops next year. We talked about communications. We talked about what if the grid goes down. We talked about teaching each other skills. We talked about checking on neighbors who didn’t have family to check on them. We talked about all sorts of stuff and my lil’ homesteader prepper brain was filled with all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings.

But then it was replaced with a not so great feeling. Mostly guilt. And a little bit of shame. How am I sitting in a garage talking to people who have all lived within a few miles of each other for years and have driven by each other’s houses everyday and never met each other? Never talked to each other?

Some realizations about creating local, in person communities

Now I want to be honest here, because in all reality I was actually nervous to attend this group. Me. The person who has been talking about how important it is to form these groups.

And that’s what I want to work through with you today. Because we know its important to grow these local communities, but here’s the thing. When I was first invited to this group I thought, cool. Which was immediately followed by who are these people, I don’t know these people. Can I trust these people? What’s the real point of this group? Is it made of crazies or regular ol’ folks?

Meeting people in person is completely different than meeting them online. Online, I can creep in a group without interacting. Online, If I don’t like the group I can delete the group with the swipe of my finger. Online, if I don’t like someone in the group I can block them.

It’s a little different when it’s in person.

The other thing that’s important to point out is that in any group you will have people who want different things, and you won’t always get along, but the internet has put some sort of weird sheltery veil over that. The internet has taught us that (generally speaking) we team up with people who are carbon copies of us, like the same thing, get mad about the same thing, have the same political beliefs, laugh at the same memes, etc.

And we don’t associate with people who don’t check those boxes. Because, generally speaking, we don’t have to if we don’t want to.

Online, there are no physical boundaries. So, we a ) don’t have to associate as much with people who annoy us or disagree with us (other than trolls who we can block), and b ) we can find a lot of people who do check the boxes of all the things we like. They might live 1400 miles away from us, but in internet land that doesn’t matter. You can talk to your internet besties 25 times a day and you might never ever get a chance to meet them in real life.

Physical boundaries change things. With a local, in-person community, you’re dealing with a set bunch of people. They’ve all got different beliefs, ways of living, things they know, things they want.  

In the group I attended, there are people there who are very interested in politics and are very passionate about changing things in that whole arena. And there are people who are more interested in getting together to harvest stuff and butcher stuff and can stuff. There are people who want the group to grow and grow and there are other people who want to keep it small but mighty. And all these people sit around a table in someone’s garage, working through stuff as a community.

But working through those things is important. And it used to be normal. Knowing your neighbors and being able to disagree with them or have different goals within the same picture used to be a thing. I don’t know that there was ever an expectation that neighbors or the local community would be ride or die, always together, always agree kinds of folks.

But it used to be normal to know your neighbors and you expected you weren’t going to agree on everything. That you were going to have different ways of doing things.

The (not-so-fluffy) reality of knowing your neighbors

I recently did a prepper/community building type video on TikTok where I basically asked “do you know your neighbors?”

@farmishlife

Say hi. Meet up. ##preptok ##homesteadlife ##shtf ##selfreliance ##buildacommunity

♬ original sound – farmishlife

There were some people who immediately went off about their neighbors and how they don’t like them.

And I get that, but that’s not what I asked. I asked if you knew them.

See, knowing your neighbors doesn’t mean there is some automatic guarantee that you’re going to be best friends. It just means you know them. Can you borrow a cup of sugar from them, or are they the kind of neighbors you should be wary of? That you don’t want your kids around. That you wouldn’t trust to know that you’re not home.

Knowing your neighbors might also mean you have to put some boundaries on those relationships. One of the greatest things about getting to know people in the area is figuring out who has the wood splitter that everyone can borrow and who would be interested in having a canning party. It means you know who you can call when your car won’t start and you need a jump.

But it also means that you might have to tell someone you can’t just be dropping off your stuff that you need fixed in front of my garage. It might mean having to explain that they can’t come rummaging through your garage fridge at 11 pm to buy eggs. It might mean having to explain that you don’t want to find their kids picking raspberries in your patch unless they let you know they are out there first. It means explaining to people that if you borrow the wood chipper I really hope that you bring it back in working order. 

How the internet screwed things up

An in-person community means you have to deal with people. Their quirks. Their differences. There may be disagreements. Because people are people. And people in the flesh are a completely different story than people online. When creating an “in-person community”, and people are standing right in front of us, we can’t just lie and say, “sorry, I didn’t see your message.” We can’t multi-task and go back to the conversation when we want to. We can’t just turn our phone off.

In some ways, the internet has made it harder for us to deal with people to their face. We always talk about keyboard warriors who will say something to someone online that they’d never say to someone in person. Sitting behind a screen makes people more brave, right?

But if you take away the nasty comment factor, aren’t a lot of us like that? We will talk to people all day long online, we will get involved in things online, but geez, show up to someone’s garage to talk with people you don’t know but who could literally be at your house in three minutes if you called them in an emergency? No, we can’t do that.

What?

And this won’t apply to some of you. Some of you know your neighbors. Some of you live urban or suburban and you are so sick of seeing your neighbors, you can hardly see straight. Some of you have met your neighbors and you’re not super fond of them. So, all of you in that situation can answer, yes, I know my neighbors.

But a lot of us, if we’re honest, don’t know our neighbors. Like another person brought up as a comment to my TikTok video, isn’t it strange that 11 families can live in the same building, and none of us have ever talked to each other?

It is so easy for us to get wrapped up in our own little worlds, especially if you add a little bit of self-reliant frosting to it.

We don’t need nobody, right? 

Consider this uncomfortable thought: half of the people that you talk to online, you would never talk to if it meant that in order to meet them, you would have had to approach them at a park or put together a neighborhood get together or something that required in-person effort. And there are some people who will say that the internet has made it possible for introverts to make friends. And y’all, I’m an introvert. I need my alone time and I would almost always choose to be home over any other place in the world.

BUT. BUTTTTTTT. I think this goes deeper that that. I don’t think this is just an introvert thing. I think as a society, we’ve changed. And we talk about wanting to go back to the close knit vibe of the old days, and yet we’ve cocooned ourselves into some weird thing that’s fueled in part by the internet allowing us to pick and choose our perfect companions in our perfect online worlds, and also fueled in part by the news trying to convince us there’s a psycho killer lurking around every corner.

So if you want to meet people and put together a local community, how do you make that happen?

Maybe you invite a couple people you do know locally and tell them to bring two people they know locally. Good lord, how do online homesteading and prepping groups grow?

But we can’t grow groups of people in person?

Invite people. Not everyone will come—and that’s okay.

But the seed is planted.

Go out and meet your neighbors.

But everyone is horrible and terrible and probably serial killers…

Ok. Listen. Those people are out there. But y’all, if there were as many of them out there as you thought there were, you’d be talking to a few of them online without even knowing it. I always say people are prettier on the internet — meaning, someone with the same quirks that you hate in someone in real life will be totally fine for you to deal with on the internet.

We may need to do a bit of soul searching to determine why that is, because my gut feeling is that it’s more than just proximity.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned with safety. I don’t care if you’re in person or online, you should definitely keep your head on a swivel. But we’ve become a people who will flap our jaw to anyone online about the things we do at our farm, but we won’t knock on our new neighbor’s door because we don’t know who they are.

I remember when we moved in 10 years ago, the people who lived across the road at that time walked over with a meat and cheese tray and other goodies to introduce themselves. Now, were they expecting that we’d become besties? Nope. But it was how they figured out if we were decent folks or not.

I remember them walking in the front door and handing us this tray and I was well into a bottle of celebration wine and I thought oh great, now they neighbors think I’m a lush. As it turns out, my glass of wine was one of the ways they figured out we’d probably get along okay. We didn’t start hanging out for probably several months, but the point is that the seed was planted.

Plant the seed. 

I had a friend who asked me once about a family that lived on her street and she was concerned about stuff that was going on in the house because of a random comment their young daughter had heard from the neighbor’s young child. This friend was talking to me, trying to determine if there was any credibility to the comments or if the kids were “just talkin”. And I asked my friend how well they knew the family in question. She admitted not at all. They’d not been over to their house to even introduce themselves—even thought the family had moved in two doors down three years earlier.

Now I’m not judging, because we’ve probably all done it. I meant to, but I haven’t. Soulda coulda woulda, right? But planting that seed, putting in that effort and saying hi and putting out feelers as you stand their on their step to figure out if they are someone you want to invite over for coffee or a beer or a campfire is a really good idea—for so many reasons. 

The entire point is this: do you know your neighbor? Because the time to figure that all out isn’t when it all hits the fan or you have an emergency, the time to figure that all out is now

So what are you going to do?

Plan a get together? Go knock on a neighbor’s door? Take them some goodies? Stick a note in their mailbox? Be more intentional about waving and maybe stopping to chat as you walk by? I’d love to hear what this has inspired you to do. Drop a comment below and let us know!

— Amy Dingmann, 11-9-21

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