By Melissa Holt
You may have heard the saying “love thy neighbour.”
It is a phrase that stands out for me. In society today, conversations are diminishing, and people are less present with each other.
The world has become absorbed with social media and social isolation is on the rise. The benefits of knowing your neighbours and bringing awareness to this topic gives me hope that we can continue to enhance wellness through connection.
Merriam-Webster defines neighbour as “one living or located near another” and defines community as “a unified body of individuals.”
The topic area of knowing your neighbour is one I have been very curious about. Maybe you are too, or maybe you haven’t given it much thought.
What are the benefits of knowing your neighbours, you might ask. Research by Doug Linkhart suggests “knowing your neighbours has long been recognized as a means of improving the safety, quality, financial well-being and even the healthiness of residential neighbourhoods.”
This point highlights the benefits of connection on multi levels.
Social connection is not a new concept. Historically, and currently, there are various ways in which people come together in their neighbourhoods.
Studies show block parties and neighbourhood organizing date back to the 1970s.
Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that expanding social networks through community connection opens people up to avenues they were previously not privy to.
There is great value in these gatherings. I live a block away from our community centre. It is a sacred place that hosts a multitude of gatherings for residents that are hosted by volunteer members throughout the year.
These events create the opportunity for meaningful connection, to volunteer and share passions and hobbies through conversation and activities.
The community centre is a safe gathering spot for neighbours to get to know each other. Neighbours can ask each other for supports as needed, such as help with specific tasks around the house or yard.
Maybe there is some heavy lifting, someone needs a ride, or general support in problem-solving. Neighbours can share their time and resources with one another. It is a treasured community space.
Research shows the spread of happiness might depend more on frequent social contact than deep social connections. Individuals are “more likely to become happy if the next-door neighbours become happy.”
This example inspired me to consider the impact of a simple gesture such as a smile, a wave, greeting a neighbour by their first name, or asking the person across the street about their day.
Get to know a neighbour’s pet’s name, offer to walk a neighbour’s dog, or help look for a lost pet. Hold an elevator or collect a neighbour’s parcel while they are away.
These are all meaningful opportunities to engage with one another that positively impact personal well-being and community ambiance.
Feeling safe fosters trust and acceptance. Evidence suggests that women who have experienced domestic violence have been able to leave toxic relationships while being embraced by the people living around them.
This example highlights the power of connection. When people feel cared for, they are able to draw strength from those around them, which reinforces their ability to step away from unhealthy situations.
Neighbours can be utilized as built-in support systems for one another.
There are many things neighbours can do to promote safety and connection, including providing care for children and pets, offering a prepared meal, helping with grocery delivery, or carrying groceries in, cutting a neighbour’s grass, shovelling a sidewalk, or being a friendly visitor, to name a few.
Connection can provide a sense of purpose. When you feel looked after, it may increase motivation to return the favour – another perk of knowing your neighbours.
Knowing your neighbours and community connection promotes a sense of belonging. It fosters trust, creates purpose, and boosts global satisfaction on both individual and communal levels.
Knowing those who live near us reduces isolation and promotes unity. I challenge you to start a conversation and reach out to the people living around you. Get to know them.
Do something that is meaningful to you to build relationships and to start experiencing the many benefits of connection. Together, we will create a movement towards healthier individuals and communities.
Let’s get to know our neighbours.
Melissa Holt is a masters of social work student at Renison University College, affiliated with the University of Waterloo. The former Red Deer County resident now lives in Calgary.