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9 Ways to Practice Radical Neighboring

Windows on 6th Street in Austin, Texas are boarded up after bars were ordered closed during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. Date: 21 March 2020, 13:36:59 Source: Own work Author: Sk5893

“Being a good citizen is being a good neighbor—so what do ‘good neighbors’ look like in the time of panic buying, hand sanitizer, and physical avoidance?”

As we create “social distance” to protect ourselves and our loved ones and “flatten the curve,” we are also facing fear.

Many of us are anxious, afraid, and unsure. Will this be our new normal? Will I get sick? Will I overreact? Underreact? Am I putting my family in harm’s way?

So we move through the fear, hunker down, and wait it out—and the comparisons swirl. Is this like 9/11, Hurricane, Sandy, the 1918 flu, SARS, Ebola or like nothing we have ever experienced before?

And what do we do to maintain our humanity and connection in a situation in which keeping our distance is the key to survival and being a good citizen? How can we transform “social distance” into just “physical distance”?

Being a good citizen is being a good neighbor—so what do “good neighbors” look like in the time of panic buying, hand sanitizer, and physical avoidance?

In this climate of “physical distance,” do we need to redefine neighborliness?

We think so. It’s time to practice Radical Neighboring.

Radical Neighboring (v): To resurrect the age-old teaching to love your neighbor as yourself by profoundly re-committing to that ancient wisdom, applying and practicing it through new technologies in a time of unprecedented separation and isolation.

Radical Neighbor (n): A person who against all odds, despite fear, uncertainty and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, practices expressions of love, service, humility, and kindness to people who may be very different or very distant but are still worthy of being connected.

We have nine ideas for taking care of each other during this crisis.

1. Reach out. Hop on Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime. Pick up your phone and call. Send some texts. Make a list of people you love and connect with them. It seems as the scale of the threat has come into focus, old friends are already reaching out to check on each other. That’s a good thing. Make it a daily practice during your time at home and even when the hectic pace of life returns. It will mean the world to them and to you that you did.

You could also gather a group online. There are a number of ways to connect as a group face-to-face. One way I’m really familiar with is the neighborhood project. People have been gathering in-person for a couple years and now shifted their planned gatherings online. They say it’s so good to see each other, to laugh, to compare notes, and to gather as a virtual group. It’s easy to start one, and your friends who are restricted to their homes will thank you for connecting them in a meaningful way to the outside world.

2. Support people you normally give business to. Most Americans have less than $400 in savings. Taxi drivers, nannies, house cleaners, waitresses, cashiers and the like are extremely vulnerable now. Their income is in a free fall as the economy comes to a near standstill. If you employ a house cleaner and aren’t having her come or you aren’t relying on your nanny and you’re able to stretch a little to pay them during this time off, it might make all the difference. Maybe you won’t eat at your favorite place during isolation, but you could drop off a tip for your favorite server.

3. Celebrate our health-care and other workers. Scan your awareness. Who do you know who works in health care? An ER doc? A nurse? A home-care worker? Take a minute to thank them. Post a photo of them. Make a donation in their name to a local hospital. Then take a moment to say a prayer for those who do other, often-invisible, jobs that can’t be put on hold. Whether it is the 24/7 close quarters work of corrections officers, the on-call nature of firefighters, the daily uncertainties of sanitation workers, or the consistent exposure faced by bus drivers, there are many jobs for which we are not thankful enough. Now, as many of us create smaller safe spaces to stay healthy, let’s offer a double dose of appreciation to those who meet the call of duty as they do their daily jobs—even as the risks get higher.

4. Make a contribution. For those in dire need like the hungry and the homeless, your urgent donation could make a difference. Maybe the pandemic has reminded you of the fragility of life and the larger world around us and you want to donate to other issues like combatting climate change or putting an end to the death penalty. Regardless, give something, large or small, once, daily, or as a regular practice. It will keep you connected to the larger world, continue to knit together the interconnected fabric of our neighborhoods and do wonders for your spirits.

5. Put yourself above the fray. Let’s not score partisan points here; the pace slows down and now you have more time to immerse yourself in social media and attack your mortal enemies. Take a breath. Don’t do that. Most likely they aren’t your mortal enemies but your fellow Americans, and what we all need right now is a bit less attack dog and a little more good neighbor. Post less, ask more. If our country’s president, your state’s governor or your city’s mayor has risen to the challenge, stepped up as a leader and spearheaded a comprehensive, balanced, just and effective response to the pandemic then give them a round of applause. Let their offices know. Take time to send a handwritten note. If they have fallen short and bungled this crisis then get involved in trying to replace them come the next election. Not because you or they are a Democrat or a Republican but because this is a moment for leadership, and if our elected officials don’t lead, they need to get out of the way so someone else can.

6. Let’s be better this time around. That is not to say that evil forces aren’t seizing the moment to stir up hate. The anti-Semites are blaming the Jews for spreading the virus; they dress up their hate-filled rhetoric invoking as evidence that there is a Jewish doctor who has tested positive, a tragically stricken Jewish community in New Rochelle, and any progress Israeli scientists make in finding a cure. The xenophobes spew age-old anti-Asian slurs claiming that someone whose family came to America from anywhere in Asia or lives today in a heavily Asian-American community is more likely than anyone else to be carrying the virus. We have found reasons to blame Jews and Asians (and lots of other people) for things in the past that they were not responsible for. Let’s do better this time round.

7. Work with your anxiety. It is important to get up-to-the-minute accurate information about COVID-19. Find a few reliable sources and stick with them. Stop scrolling and surfing looking for the latest projections of worst-case scenarios and horrific details of what has gone wrong in Italy. It won’t help your planning and won’t help you weather this crisis any better. If you are anything like me, you have at least low-grade worry right now. Clicking from site to site won’t resolve that. But YOU can. Spend a few minutes daily sitting face-to-face with the anxiety and see what happens. Anxiety is something you can work with. Put down your phone. Sit quietly and comfortably. Back straight. Close your eyes and use your awareness to scan your whole body looking for where you sense the anxiety. Find a spot that “feels” anxious and hold your attention there. Breathe in and out into that very spot. Does that anxious area have a color, a texture, a smell? Keep breathing into that area until your attention drifts away or until the sensation fades. Now look for other anxious places and repeat. If you can’t find where in your body the anxiety resides, just breathe deeply into your stomach, in through the nose and out through the nose, and let your awareness dwell in the love you feel around you.

8. Be reassuring and honest-ish with your kids. “Daddy, will we get sick?” “Daddy, will we be able to get back into NYC?” “Daddy, will school reopen after break?” After I tried my best to express the truth that we just don’t know, I was met again and again with, “But, what do you think?” I found a little space to regroup and then went to three communication tips for parents that I didn’t come up with but that I have come to rely on:

  • Probe for their feelings and why they are asking: “Are you scared or worried about this?”
  • Provide reassurance that they can trust: “I know we will be together and we will get through this.”
  • Be honest-ish and commit to talking more: “I think honestly, while we don’t know for sure, we likely won’t start back to our usual routine right away, but each day as we learn more we will talk it through and make a plan together.”

9. Make the most of the time at home. Try to settle into the quiet of being at home. If you are with loved ones, tell stories and play games. Maybe it’s time to clean out the basement, sort through old toys and clothes to give away, make a family photo album. Maybe you practice no devices for four-hour stretches. Maybe you enjoy a movie marathon. Open the windows, play music, laugh. Life is not over, and not only will the world as we knew it come back, it is still all around us, because we are in it and we will it to be. Feel gratitude. Each day, name five things you are grateful for. Write them down. Cherish them.

And let me leave you with this: if I could smell the Lyft driver’s cologne, was I sitting too close for safety? It likely won’t be the only unexpected, but maybe not entirely unfounded, question we find ourselves pondering in the days and weeks to come. And, the matter of staying healthy and safe is indeed paramount. Still, we can also strive to draw our awareness back to the many layers of neighborhood that surround us and maybe now more than ever use every piece of technology and any assets we might have to continue to knit the bonds of neighborhood back together even as they are being torn further apart.


This article was produced by Face to Face, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Simon Greer

Simon Greer is a writing fellow for Face to Face, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been involved in social change work for more than 25 years. Greer is the founder of Cambridge Heath Ventures, a strategic advisory firm that works with private sector companies, purpose-driven organizations and governments to help them overcome their most pressing challenges. Greer is also a leading thinker, practitioner and speaker on organizational design, unconventional strategies and common good politics.

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