Is a neighbor simply a person that lives within a close proximity to where you live? Certainly the term “neighborhood” describes proximity as it refers to a geographically localized community. However, the term “neighbor” has historically been used to describe a fellow man with some level of acquaintance or interaction. The Bible describes a neighbor in Matthew 19:19 when it sums up the law as, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Throughout the Bible the word “neighbor” is used in a context based around some type of interaction and dealings with other people that are in your life. There is always a level of involvement with neighbors and an emphasis on our relationship to them in matters of everyday life. Historically, a neighbor has been more of a complex concept than the way we often refer to it today, neighbors being the people that we see briefly when we walk from the home to the car.
William Guy Carr describes his definition of Neighbor in his book “Pawns in the Game.”
“The real definition of the word ‘neighbour’ is a person who has proved himself your benefactor; a person upon whom you can rely; a person who, you are certain, wouldn’t do you any harm under any circumstances; that man or woman is your neighbour. The Scriptures tell us we must love our neighbour as ourselves for God’s sake. The only way to make good neighbours is to perform good works unselfishly. Lack of individual good works means lack of unity and lack of the proper community spirit. To-day we have adopted the cold cheque-book type of doing good works. We leave the performance to professional Social Welfare Workers. This has justified the use of the term “As cold as professional charity”. It is well to remember that even government Social Security legislation does not relieve individuals of the duties of neighbourliness. Prayer without good works avails a man nothing.”
Carr’s words are very interesting when we compare it to contemporary American society. He describes a deeper level of trust in conjunction with a neighbor. He refers to the Biblical command that Christians are called to love their neighbors, as well as the reality that doing so involves action. Finally, Carr recognizes the impersonal and “cold” way that we have adapted the concept of loving our neighbors in our American society to writing a check or paying taxes and substituting our role of charity to government welfare workers.
Society today has certainly changed as a result of technological changes in our communication and social interactions, but that’s only part of the explanation for the wedges that have been driven between neighbors. The antiquated concept of trusting one’s neighbor has shifted away, and people are now more likely to rely on governments to provide and assist them in their times of need. The antiquated concept of charity and helping each other out in a heart of community has shifted toward taxation and welfare which are absent in expressing any personal sense of love and charity behind their programs. We’ve turned away from the people living next to us and leaned dependently toward the officials and groups that we stand behind. We’re quick to join alliances, factions, movements, and protests yet are hard-pressed to take the time to listen and respect each other as neighbors.
The goal and dream isn’t to create a community in which neighbors encroach on each others’ personal space and pretend to like each other. The focus here is about restoring basic civility. People ought to be decent, respectful, and civil toward one another. It doesn’t mean succumbing to other ideologies or sacrificing our principles, it’s about the very basic expression of respect. We can all start with basic respect for others in our own attitudes and it will create a tremendous difference in our communities and nation. It may not be an action that appears to wave a grandiose banner of virtue that the collectivist movements proclaim. It may look too simple and ordinary for our pride. However, we don’t need more groups, factions, and protests. Simple civility and respect toward our neighbors is by far what our communities and our nation needs the most right now. We can learn once again what it means to be neighbors, not enemies.
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