Who Is My Neighbor, Anyway?

Let me tell you about a neighbor I once had. His name was Glen.

Glen’s favorite pastime was screaming f-bombs at his wife while my kids were playing outside.

That’s probably not true, but some days it definitely felt like it.

One of the highlights of living next to Glen included having the cops show up and asking my wife if she had seen him because he had been driving around the neighborhood boosting Christmas decorations off other people’s lawns.

Another was that our neighbors (on the other side) decided to try to sell their house. It was a tough market so they didn’t get a lot of attention, but one sunny day, a prospective buyer showed up to take a look around. Glen decided that was the right time to go change the oil in his truck. Wearing only pajama bottoms and screaming obscenities at his wife (who was in the house at the time). Strangely, the prospective buyer did not put a contract on the house. They still live next to us.

Glen’s kids frequently used my car as a backstop when they were playing baseball despite my asking them not to.

Not very long ago, Glen and his wife and kids moved. I can’t tell you how happy my wife and I were about this. He didn’t ask, but I would happily have helped to load up the moving truck.

Here’s the catch in this story: I failed Glen.

I claim to be a follower of a belief system that tells me to love my neighbor, but I didn’t love Glen.

I claim to be a follower of a belief system that tells me to love my neighbor, but I didn’t love Glen.

I want to live in a better world. One where there aren’t mass shootings and non-stop political bickering, and I know that if I’m only nice to people that I like, it’s never going to happen. I know that the challenge to love my neighbor is designed to create that better world.

There’s a famous story called about a “Good Samaritan”, and the whole point of that story is that we’re supposed to create community anytime we get the opportunity, even if that opportunity is with your enemy.

I never looked for chances to create community with Glen and his family. Never invited him and his family over to toast marshmallows when we were 20 feet from his front door. Never offered to play catcher for the kids that were growing up in what I knew to be a stressful household.

I chose instead to express my frustration with glares and head shakes.

Our world didn’t get any better by how I acted.

The thing is, this isn’t just about Glen.

Everytime I ignore the opportunity to create community, I’m just letting things stay the way they are.

I’m an introvert, so it’s really easy for me to basically treat the cashier at the grocery store as a piece of furniture. Social interaction takes effort, and I just want to go home, but in that moment, loving my neighbor means looking them in the eye, taking a moment to thank them, and generally just acting like they are human.

Loving my neighbor means looking a cashier in the eye, taking a moment to thank them, and generally just acting like they are human.

Instead of slamming a troll on twitter or facebook, it means saying something like, “tell me more about why you think that”.

And rather than excuse my nasty comments and rude actions towards someone that I don’t like, I should actually demonstrate care and kindness for them in their time of need.

That story about the Samaritan, if I take it seriously, strips away all my arguments where I justify my refusal to reach out to those that are different than me, or who I just plain don’t like.

I should be kind and considerate to those who don’t look like me, or believe what I believe, or think like I think.

If you’re like me, and you want this world to be a better place than it currently is, I hope you’ll take the Samaritan story seriously.

Maybe, like me, you’ve totally blow it in the past. The good news is that we don’t have to be defined by our past.

I’m actually grateful for Glen now, because Glen showed me that I had a problem, and I decided not to ignore it. I’be since worked to get to know my neighbors, even the ones that I didn’t particularly want to get to know, and now we’ve started to build connections to one another. We’re starting to have a community, and I think maybe my world is just a little better for it.


(A version of this article originally appeared on iamsecond.com)