Good Neighbors

by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

When my wife and I moved to Talent 13 years ago, we came seeking a slower and more relaxed life.  After growing up in Indianapolis and then living in Portland for many years, I was more accustomed to the pace of city living.  I had a lot to learn about what slowing down really meant.  

One day I was running a little late to work so I started to speed.  I quickly caught up to another car and began tailgating it.  After feeling frustrated because I was getting to work late, I decided that there was no safe way to pass the car in front of me, so I slowed down a bit and accepted the situation.  

When I got settled in my office and opened the door to greet my first patient, he said “It looks like you were running a little late to work this morning.”  I was a little perplexed with his statement until he immediately followed with “that was me you were tailgating.”  I felt quite uncomfortable. Then he smiled and said “Let me give you some friendly advice: You aren’t living in the city anymore and this valley is smaller than you think.  Just pretend that everyone is your neighbor.  That way you will think a little more about the things that you do.”  His smile told me that I was forgiven, but the advice he shared has stuck with me.

As the world becomes busier and we connect more online, we seem to have less contact with the people around us.  Fewer people know their neighbors, fewer people shop at the corner store, and fewer people move around without their eyes glued to their phones.  We are becoming more isolated, even though so many of these tools promise to make feel more connected.  We may be more networked, but we are becoming less connected.   When we get our information about people from a social media feed, or we get our products through the mail, we don’t always realize the true cost.  

There are a lot of positives that come from connecting with people in person.  Rather than living in sound bites or snippets, we get to have a more complete experience.  We get to see all of a person when we are physically with them:  their gestures, their expressions, their eyes.  Often times when we can’t see all of a person, we start to fill in our own ideas of who they are.  This is a less authentic picture that is often full of inaccuracies.  The less we know someone, the more likely we are to misjudge, mistreat, or fear them.  One of the reasons that people have such a fear of clowns is because when they are wearing all of that makeup, you can’t see their true face.  When we don’t really see people we are more likely to fear them.  We make up stories about how they are different and thus not entitled to the same respect and love as the people in our family or “tribe.”

Many of us put on our best face if we are around friends or neighbors.  We realize the importance of keeping the peace with people we have regular contact with, or those we may depend on in difficult times.  We tend to behave differently when we are anonymous.  Whether we are driving down a busy road or leaving comments on an online forum, being anonymous can lead people to behave in ways that are less considerate and less patient.  We can get so caught up in our own experience and challenges that we lose sight of the impact of our words and actions.  This seems to be becoming more common these days.  As the world gets more crowded and the pace of life picks up, it can be challenging to see the people around us as people, rather than as a faceless crowd of “others”.  We can have less capacity for tolerance.  

If however, we imagine everyone around us as a dear friend or neighbor, a daughter or a grandson, something seems to change.  We see them more as people, and less as interference.  We see the cars on the road less as traffic, and more as people that are stuck in cars just like we are.  We have a little more patience and care to give to situations because we are all in it together.  With this in mind, I think one of the greatest things that we can do to help the world is to lift up our heads and connect with people face to face. Not just people who are like us, but people we come across everyday.  The more we are willing to meet different kinds of people, and spend a little uninterrupted time with them, the more we begin to realize that we are all pretty similar, even though we have differences.  This begins to widen our circles of who we consider to be neighbors, of who we consider to worthy of our love and respect. 

I leave a little earlier for work these days.  I enjoy the ride more thanks to the patience and advice of my good neighbor.

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