I love my neighborhood and find great delight and value in knowing my neighbors. But it can also feel strange to simply go up and meet new neighbors or extend niceties beyond politeness. I mean, once you get through the, “Hi, my name is…. Where are you from? If you need anything, let us know, we live just right over there,” then what?
What do you say to folks you’ve just met and with whom you have little in common (at least, as far as you know)? Truthfully, at first meeting, all that binds you is that you both chose to live on the same block.
I also find that it’s incredibly difficult to be the neighbor who needs help. It’s one thing to need a cup of sugar, but what if you find yourself truly in need? Do you feel comfortable asking for help from the people across the street who you see all the time but don’t really know?
I have a secret.
I often choose to ask my neighbors for small things or favors to open up a mutual giving relationship. I like to break the ice and be the one who asks for help so that they know they can come to me when they are in need.
I start small. Like asking for couple of eggs. Or flour. Or a cup of sugar. (Can you see what I am doing here?) I like to start with an item I can bake with, so that when my baking is done, I can share a little with my neighbor as a thank you.
Cookies, brownies, cupcakes, donuts, mini tartes. You name it.
Asking to borrow something from a neighbor levels the playing field, provides connection, and creates a pathway to building community. There’s actually a whole movement behind it.
But I like to take it a step further. By making something that I can share with what I have borrowed, I can return to my neighbors and offer another point of connection. It provides a pathway to more conversation, storytelling, and learning about one another.
My neighborhood is incredibly diverse in its culture, socioeconomic status, age, and professions. Asking for help and sharing gifts has become an art. The art of asking has allowed me to learn that one of my neighbors is a mechanic and another has garden tools I can borrow. A few houses down there is a teenage girl who is available to babysit when needed. By my engagement with parents, my kids have also made friends.
The art of asking and borrowing leads to connection. Connection leads to sharing. Sharing leads to openness. Openness leads to relationships. And relationships are the foundation for building a strong community.
Do you give and borrow in your own neighborhood? How can you start small to engage in the art of asking in your community?