9 Jan 2001

Reaching Out: Neighbors


I spent almost my entire Christmas vacation in the wild and seemy city of G-Town. I like to spend time there. G-Town is home to numerous wonderful and extraordinary people.

From time to time, I encounter people who I take to be members of the "ordinary" cast of G-Town players. They are usually older, married with children, go to church on Sunday, and do all of the "right" things. I met one of these people over break.

She was probably younger than fifty. As I was speaking with her, an issue regarding the competence of the local police came up. "The police here are no good," she said. "They can't solve anything." She told me a story about how the police had failed her. It was a matter so trivial that I was unable to take it seriously enough to remember it, but she was resolute in her anger and indignation. Normally, I simply brush these things off, but she kept talking, and it got worse.

"My neighbor has a lot of boyfriends." She said "boyfriends" with an air of indignation and disgust. Her moral disapproval was obvious. She clearly hated her neighbor. "She was having a problem with Peeping Toms. The police asked me if I could check out my window at about ten thirty at night." Her anger and irritation at this point would have been blatantly obvious to anyone who might have bothered to eavesdrop. "I said, 'No, I won't look! That's your job! Don't ask me to do your job! You couldn't help me when I needed you...'" I feigned sympathy and understanding, but her story left me cold. These are times when I need to remind myself that everyone has the potential to change and to become a better person. The human capacity for redemption is sometimes difficult to recognize in some individuals.

What was this woman doing? With her anger and indignation, she chose a morally repulsive path. She decided that she would not look out for her neighbor. She decided that it was not her responsibility to look out for another member of her community. She chose to blame her neighbor for the victimization and the police for her own incalcitrance in lending assistance. I would tell you that her attitude surprised and shocked me, but I grew up in G-Town. I went to the churches, and as a child I met people like her all of the time.

It's an old adage that it is better to regret something one has done than to regret something one hasn't done. I don't like making waves with people, especially those I barely know, but I wish I had said something like this: "Ma'am, she's your neighbor, and we've gotta look out for one another. We're all in this together." Maybe it wouldn't have sunk in. People like that eventually become good at masking their own unhappiness by blaming others for what is wrong with the world, but I am ashamed that I didn't even try to communicate what I thought and felt about the sentiments expressed.

Maybe telling this story is a way of making ammends for my negligence. People do things we don't like, but as free citizens it is our repsonsibility to accept the differences of others. It should be obvious that it is not possible to reach people by acting hatefully toward them. Intolerance does not unite a community. I have to tell you that I think my home community would be much better if we could get some unity. My method is simple. Let's all try to love and respect one another first and work out our differences after we have come to know and understand one another.

Simple mindedness. Simple solutions. Easy solutions. Feasible solutions.

I love it!

I kinda wish I woulda found out where that neighbor lives. Maybe she could use another "boyfriend"...


Alan Wescoat