Lonely Communities with Neighbours next door.
The idea that we all need friends and neighbours might be getting somewhat lost these days. I was just finished getting my on line Green slip and Rego done, when it dawned on me that the experience might be convenient but totally without human contact. Where was the smiling girl behind the counter from last year? While so much is being done through the computer and even here on the Unleashed we think of ourselves as a ‘community ‘ or group with similar or opposing views. How real is this community?
The last few days we spent looking after grandchildren in a leafy Sydney suburb and during that time would often sit outside, perched on a shaded veranda well above street level. The usual background noises of cars and aeroplanes would only be interrupted by the call of the currawong and the cacophony of kookaburras. It was all rather peaceful and pleasant. The dog would be taken for a walk and a run around the local park, which is down a steep bit of bushland and with river frontage.
During those few days I reflected on the discussion we often have about the apparent lack of seeing people about in our cities and suburbs. Sitting on that veranda, listening to sounds, the sounds that humans make were far and wide in between. Usually, in the afternoon, if one was lucky, one might hear someone being greeted by another when exiting their car. That is, of course, providing the car is not being shunted inside behind the electronically activated roll-a-shutter.
How real is our perception of neighbours getting together sharing a coffee with indulging and confessing our everyday concerns? The kids, the family, our partners, experience during the last few days, in fact all the important trivia and debris of our lives? We can’t live by privacy alone. Being locked up behind our homes and computers does not constitute communal living at all.
How real are those virtual communities of face book, youth-tubes and internet forums? Does it fulfil our need for other ‘real’ people with real blood and bones?
On one of those walks I met the elderly lady next door. She was born In Hungary and had lost her husband last year. While patting the dog we had a nice little yarn and she was keen to talk. Next we were talking about Hungary and music. She told me her husband used to love playing the piano and how she misses that now. She plays the piano as well and asked me if we could hear this. I answered that it was so nice to hear her music and that my daughter was also enjoying the sound. She was so happy to hear that. Next there were tears in her eyes.
Of course, being retired we had the time to sit there, walk the dog and talk to those that we happened to meet on the street. I wonder how many do take the time off and make the efforts in meeting neighbours. When is the last time you shared a cuppa with your neighbours, or do you just say ‘good-day’ and slink inside?
It is not unusual to read about people passing away without anyone being aware of it. Yet, we read about some drama somewhere, a shooting or strange going ons, wild swinging parties, murders and throat cuttings. In the same breath, with a typical sensational press hungry for copy, talk about ‘close knit’ community with a teddy bear thrown in the front yard for good measure and effect. It beats me how a close knit community can be ignorant of someone passing away and all those other calamities without anyone knowing about it.
People go missing and many are never heard of again. Worse, people go missing and are never even missed. Yet, we all are meant to live together and care. We even are supposed to own a duty of care towards each other. We are obliged to care but hopefully, and preferably care, without the need of this obligation.
Is the inclusion of so much of our perceived concern about privacy not overdone and obsessive? We cover ourselves with anonymity, with pseudonyms and subterfuge behind all things hidden. We sheath our houses with fences and electronic gates. We cover any chance of an inside look by a stranger with curtains and blinds. How welcoming and friendly is that?
I have always believed that out obsession with privacy is inherited from our Anglo forefathers. You know those strong believers in ‘home is our castle’ with moats and drawbridges? Certainly in Continental European cities one sees far more people congregating on street corners and cafes than here. The el fresco dining experience is a fairly recent phenomenon here. Not all that not long ago I received a complaint from someone telling me, “What are all those people doing, sitting around eating”? “They should be working”. What a miserable creature, I thought.
Social intercourse is often the glue that holds societies together. It is not just a luxury or something that we should sometimes indulge in, time permitting. We need it as much as food. It is about the only thing in life that is free. We ought to encourage and engage in this intercourse far more often and embrace our neighbours and communities with gusto each time the opportunity presents itself.
Go on, say hello and invite your neighbours around the wooden table of sharing the ‘give and take’ of our everyday life.