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Neighborliness

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I was happy to read in the newspaper the other day that none of Raleigh's planning committee members voted in favor of the ordinance limiting the number of renters who can cohabitate. I rent a duplex with three people and was actively opposed to the idea.

The situation led me to ruminate on the idea of neighborliness and consideration for others in general. Ultimately, people were concerned about their property values, as is often the case when changes occur in a neighborhood. I work as a housing advocate, and one of the biggest obstacles to building more low-income housing is neighbors' fear that their property values will decline. Since I'm not a homeowner, I cannot begin to understand the many hopes that are symbolized in a home. It's the biggest purchase most families ever make, so of course it's important that the investment be protected. But at what cost? What about being good citizens, and making small sacrifices for the benefit of the community? Mixed-income areas are healthy; they deconcentrate poverty and tend to promote neighborhood schools by naturally desegregating communities. Of course, the current situation was as much about college students as it was about low-income workers, but they, too, need places to live.

Consideration. At the bookstore recently, I saw many books on how to make oneself more fulfilled, happier, whole, and not one on how to better serve others. But if I'm not thinking of others' needs, and you're not, who is? The outpouring of love for the recently deceased Mr. Rogers reminded me that we as a culture do value gentleness and consideration--but sometimes I wish I saw it more often. There is clearly a lot of friendliness in this area, but I'm talking about something more than just saying hi to passers-by on the sidewalk or giving money to a local homeless shelter.

Not that I'm perfect. Almost every morning this winter, I've driven past a woman walking down the residential street that leads to my job. She looks Latina, though I can't see her face because it's been obscured by a winter cap--and she definitely stands out in the well-off, white Five Points neighborhood where I live. But I've never offered her a ride, not even on one of those cold, drizzly mornings we had in the past few months. No, not yet, though I've thought about it many times. Sometimes I have papers and junk on the passenger seat, and usually I'm in a sleepy daze and not ready to make a decision when I see her. And sometimes I wonder, "Will I have to keep offering her a ride, then, every morning?" Staying on my island has been easier than reaching out, and so I drive on, alone in my car.

Another dilemma in my neighborhood regards a woman who lives about half a block from me. We haven't met, but when it was warmer and I rode my bike to work, I'd often pass her as she was about to get into her car. We would smile and say hi, and I'd think, "What a nice lady. So genuine." But one day this winter I took a closer look at the bumper stickers on her car and was shocked to see how strongly anti-abortion they were. Like a lot of women, I have a knee jerk reaction to pro-life sentiments, and my opinion of the woman shifted very quickly from generalized fond sentiments to some very negative thoughts. The thing is, though, I don't want to be like that. I don't want to dislike someone just because her views are different from mine. I'm sure she is a good woman and I'd like to be able to respect her just for that.

Why are these things--consideration, respect, generosity--important? I think it's simply because they make a community a better and warmer place to be. But it means being willing to step outside of ourselves and our small worries a little bit. It's about seeing others, and their needs, more clearly--and needing less ourselves. Let's try to reach out on our own local levels. Because how can we expect our president and our country's foreign policy to be more altruistic and visionary, and less self-serving, if we can't even manage it ourselves?

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