Growing up in rural Missouri, I learned as a farm kid the importance of neighboring from my Grandma Sadie, who often repeated the adage, “If you want to have good neighbors, you have to be a good neighbor.” Throughout my 40-year career at Iowa State University, I have discussed the centrality of neighboring in two arenas: achieving community development and helping people deal with adversity.
Neighboring is foundational to all community activities. Research consistently shows that successful community development efforts hinge on residents’ feelings of belonging and inclusion. When community residents’ model or demonstrate good neighbor behavior, there tends to be higher levels of collaboration and cooperation leading to positive community development activities.
I learned how neighboring could assist with the adversity of the farm crisis when I joined the ISU faculty in 1981. As financial stress mounted, levels of desperation rose among farm families, including heightened levels of personal and familial stress. Sadly, some families could not cope, resulting in increases in divorces and suicides. It was out of these tragedies that recognition of neighboring could play a significant role in helping families through the crisis.
Reduce emotional stress
In a recent op-ed piece, Jason Haglund, a fifth-generation Iowa farmer and owner of Haglund Consulting LLC, and I discussed the formal and informal assistance available to help people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. While face-to-face neighboring is often not possible because of the virus, there are ways to connect with your neighbors. As a result of the op-ed, I received the following email from a central Iowan that demonstrates the importance of neighboring and making connections.
“… I am such an introvert and hermit. I live out in the country by myself since my husband died a decade ago. I like my own company and am comfortable going days without human contact, but I know that is not good for me. I vowed last March that during the pandemic, I would call three to four people every day and have a conversation. I can say I have done that religiously, although I didn’t think I would be doing it so long. The connections and reconnections I have made have been just tremendous. I have a number of older folks and singles I call regularly where I say little and just listen for often close to an hour. Folks are so hungry to connect, talk and feel valued and cared for. I think I am making a difference for others, and I know I am making a difference for me.” — Red Rider
Neighbors helping each other
As Red Rider eloquently points out, being a good neighbor is a reciprocal relationship providing benefits to both the recipient and to the sender. If everyone in Iowa would make a similar commitment as Red Rider has to call three or four people every day or at least once a week, we would strengthen our communities and help each other push through this pandemic.
Perhaps increased neighboring could help bridge the gap that President-elect Joe Biden has identified as a tear in the social fabric of what it means to be an American. Something as simple as a phone call, a postcard, letter, text or email, while often not as satisfying as face-to-face discussion over a cup of coffee, these small gestures communicate to the recipient that you care about them, and it’s the sense of concern and care that will carry us through the difficult weeks or months ahead.
Pick up the phone and call your neighbor. It’s the least you can do.Lasley is a professor of sociology at Iowa State University. To find help, COVID Recovery Iowa can be reached online at covidrecoveryiowa.org or by phone at the Iowa Concern Hotline, 800-447-1985. The website and hotline provide various opportunities for assistance.