The Common Good

Neighborliness is the New Sexy — 7 Ways to Achieve It

It's a joke. Well, it was. There we were talking with Diana Butler Bass and others from SOGOMedia in an online forum about the Presidential Election and the words flowed forth: Neighborliness is the new sexy. It was ridiculous, but then I started mulling the idea over and this is what happened. Adam Ericksen and I started pondering what Seven Marks of Neighborliness might look like.

Neighbors, zooropa / Shutterstock.com
Neighbors, zooropa / Shutterstock.com

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1. Be a regular somewhere: Our neighborhoods are actually rather expansive spaces. Some of them involve strip malls. Some of us commute to work and, in that sense, we live in various neighborhoods. Yes, plural. How can we root ourselves in these places? 

Well, becoming a regular at the local cafe or restaurant can be sexy in that Cheers kind of way. Always using the same branch of your bank or credit union and learning people’s names can be too. Develop some habits of participating in the local economy like it was a small town even if you live in a big city or suburb. Suddenly, you’ll find that you are learning the concerns of the shop owners and coffee clerks. You might find yourself learning the names of the others you see every day at the same time. You'll learn about their lives, their worries, and their joys. As localized as it is, you'll find that it will expand your image of the world around you. Having an expansive image of the world is sexy.

2. Leave your garage door open when you are home: Yeah, I know this sounds like a recipe for having your bike or lawn mower stolen, but think of it this way: When you get home from work, do you just pull in your garage and shut the door behind you? It's like crawling in a cave and rolling a stone in front of it. Not sexy, Trogg. None of your neighbors gets to see you ... or your stuff. I love seeing what someone's garage looks like, the stuff they store there ... the old tennis racquets and basketballs. Maybe there's fishing tackle there or just boxes of old books and a Hoosier cabinet. Who knows? But what people store in their garages is really interesting ... even sexy. Heck, maybe there's an old motorcycle in there and suddenly the revelation strikes you that the neighbor you thought was so stuffy and boring is actually a weekend gearhead hoping to go out for a ride with her spouse. Garages are sexy. Let people see yours. 

3. Hold people above principles: Are our neighborhoods enclaves of like-minded people who all vote the same? Well, some sociological evidence suggests that they are slowly becoming so. Definitely not sexy.

We redraw districting lines to make sure that elections favor one party or ideological set of concerns over another. Certainly that can't be sexy.
Even our congregations are increasingly homogenous in this regard. Are we losing the ability to hold people above our ideologies? I hope not. People are not their ideas. Our lives are much more complicated than that. Complicated is sexy. We may even change our minds many times over the course of a lifetime as events befall us that challenge our thinking. What if we made a habit of holding people above ideas? Love your neighbor ... even if they vote for the other candidate. 

4. Listen first: Our culture needs to regain the sexy art of listening. Listening is sexy because it’s about relationships and connects us to one another. We can get stuck talking about ourselves, our kids, our work, and never ask, “How are you?”

Listening requires our full attention to the other— make eye contact,don’t make everything about you, don’t start thinking about a response before the other person stops talking. Those things are anti-sexy. Instead, absorb their words and repeat them back. That way, you open up to one another. And the vulnerability of opening up is sexy.

5. Be confrontational when necessary, but never hostile: I’m not a confrontational person, and my sexiness is diminished because of it. Jesus was sexy (only an extreme Gnostic would disagree with that statement!) in part because he was confrontational with some of his neighbors. We’re human. As such, neighbors will experience conflict. But if we bottle up emotions, they become hostile … and they will explode. It’s a way of scapegoating and that is about the most anti-sexy thing anyone can do.

It works like this: I have a dispute with a neighbor. Because I’m a nice guy, I don’t want to confront him about it. So I go to another neighbor and tell him about how much of a jerk our neighbor is. (Not sexy.) When we have a conflict with a neighbor, the sexiest thing we can do is go him or her – keeping in mind that number four on our list is listening. Listen. Try not to blame. Seek to understand. If you find yourself feeling hostile, then walk away. Come back when you are ready.

6. Pray: Prayer is sexy because it connects us to God, who seeks to connect us with one another in the spirit of love. Pray alone and pray in community. Listen for where God might be leading you and talk with God about your successes and failures of being a good neighbor. Only through prayer can God keep us centered on the big picture. Through prayer God lead us in participating in the reconciliation of all things. Oh. The reconciliation of all things … now that’s sexy.

7. Be foolish: None of this is possible if we aren't willing to be foolish in some way. The vulnerability will embarrass us, but it's sexy ... and I don't mean in that ‘Hey, girl’ Ryan Gosling way. I mean in that “Take me as God made me” way. What if they see your old golf clubs in the garage or, simply, the mess that's there? What if our neighbors find out that our kitchens are a mess? “What if the coffee clerk figures out that I buy the same beverage each and every time. I'm so boring! I'm so disorganized!” Yeah. We're going to look like fools. But that's OK. We're going to have to be foolish and give our time to this slow and fitful process of becoming good neighbors to one another. Jesus said that we're going to look like fools. It's true. Embrace it. Enjoy it.

Speaking of foolishness, this may have been an exercise in foolishness. It's silly. It's ridiculous, but what's so wrong about finding these things desirable? What's the problem about understanding one another as an object of God's desire? "Sexiness" is just a fun way to think on it ... to get a laugh from it. But there it is.
This is why we're playing with the idea of neighborliness being sexy. We are to desire one another like God desires each and every one of us. What would it take for you to see each and every person you encounter in your neighborhood as an object of God's desire? And if you could receive that spiritual gift, how might that change the world? 

See? Neighborliness is sexy.

Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.orgFollow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.

Photo: Neighbors, zooropa / Shutterstock.com

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