Friday, May 30, 2008/lk
As a kid growing up in a fairly small town I always knew the names of everyone on my street. While I can never remember my parents knocking on someone's door to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar, they certainly could have and most likely they would have been successful.
We didn't live on one of those streets that had block parties, but everyone knew everyone and kids played together across a network of back yards. Children knew which houses contained a crotchety old man who wouldn't give your ball back if it got on his lawn and which people didn't want you cutting through their yards.
It wasn't some fantasyland where everyone smiled all the time and nothing bad happened, but people smiled sometimes and plenty of good happened along with the bad. There was a sense of neighborhood and when somebody new moved in an effort was made to be welcoming.
Today's world, at least in an awful lot of places, no longer seems quite as friendly. Having lived in a number of different communities across New York and Connecticut with my wife, it took me a long time to realize that many people no longer want to know their neighbors.
Instead of being potential friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, neighbors now represent potential criminals. Everyone regards everyone else with distrust and people barely make eye contact, let alone make an effort to know each other.
Even though most crime statistics are way down since my childhood in the 70s and 80s, people's fear has risen. The world - at least in America's small towns - is in fact less dangerous than it was. People ignore that though, and act like every random face might murder them, kidnap their children or commit some heinous crime they probably learned off the Internet.
We have become so cynical, afraid and mistrusting that we have forgotten that the world contains far more decent folks than it does evil ones. Perhaps we've grown scared because the bad things people do get publicized more or maybe we've just become so jaded that we assume every stranger is a villain.
Our inherent distrust of our fellow man has led to a world where everyone is a suspect and people remain guilty until proven innocent. We want so much to protect our families from potential ill that we fail to notice that isolating them from building a sense of community also protects them from potential joy.
People do this because they think the world has gotten scarier. A whole lot of bad things can happen and we do live in a time where murderers, rapists, pedophiles, reality show contestants and other evildoers may lurk around every corner. Our world also contains terrorists who might blow us up, weapons of mass destruction, Ryan Seacrest and whole countries that consider America the devil.
Of course, none of these problems likely involve the family next door. It's possible that your neighbor might be the next Charles Manson, but it's a whole lot more likely that he's a nice guy who you might borrow something from every now and again.
I'm no longer expecting people to drop by with cakes and cookies when I move into a neighborhood and I've even given up on the idea of having more than a few neighbors whose names I know. I refuse, however, to give into the idea that people are inherently bad and not worth being trusted.
You can continue ignoring me, walking quickly into your house and bolting the door. I'll be the slightly disheveled guy, probably in a black shirt attempting to smile at you or maybe even, waving hello. If you want, I even have a spare egg or a cup of sugar I might be willing to send your way.
Daniel B. Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. His parenting blog can be found at babydidwhat.com. Daniel B. Kline can be reached at email@example.com.