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Reflection: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Reflection: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Proverbs 27:10 GNT:
Do not forget your friends or your father's friends. If you are in trouble, don't ask a relative for help; a nearby neighbor can help you more than relatives who are far away.

Community is powerful.

We have any number of organizational expressions that capture it.

“It takes a village”

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

“We are better together.”

“We don’t grow in isolation. We grow in community.”

The African concept of Ubuntu says “I am because we are.”[1][2] It affirms that we find identity through relationship. My humanity is rooted in my connection to you. It’s a philosophy that fuels cooperation, connection, celebration of differences, and the common good.[3]

Community enriches us. It grounds us. It can prosper us.

It can also hurt us, scar us, and scare us to death.

Community requires us to rely on people. It requires the discomfort of trust.

We have to take the risk of trusting others.

We have to become a safe person others can trust.

We have to honor other people’s trust by being reliable.

And the proving grounds for our trust come in vulnerable moments. We don’t have to trust each other till we have a need to meet, or privacy to protect. And based on past experiences, that can be painful or even terrifying. It can seem risky or downright unwise.

So, if we have a certain worldview, we may lean, instead, on family, with the understanding that no matter what happens in the world, we can always rely on our people. And these become our mantras:

“Family first.”

“Blood is thicker than water.”

Here’s the problem: there is nothing that says that blood relatives will do right by us. There is simply a code of ethics that we believe allows us to be mad when they don’t.

Sometimes family fails you.

Sometimes they mistreat you.

Sometimes they are too busy.

Sometimes they are too selfish.

Our family relationships may be strained based on our own transgressions

We may be unable to call on family because of unresolved conflicts that span a week, or a lifetime.

And sometimes they are just physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually far away.

Some of us have terrible relationships with parents, or children, or brothers and sisters.

Some of us have spent a lifetime auditioning for a family that has never put us first.

Some of us have codependent relationships with our families that drive us to give everything we’ve got in exchange for nothing. We pour out until we are empty to people who demand more. We desperately seek an approval they can’t or won’t give.

At it’s most basic level, the proverb acknowledges that neighbors are a blessing. A nearby friend can help quicker than a faraway relative. If your house is on fire, the person next door may be a better call than the parent 1,000 miles away. It also reminds us to be a good neighbor. Don’t forget your friends or family friends. Check on the people who live alone.

It also tells us that if our only relationships are with the people we think aren’t allowed to leave us, we may not be doing the work of community that we can and should.

How much richer might your life be if you tried to make someone else’s better?

How many more friends might you have if you tried to be one?

It might be worth a shot.

And let me be clear. I am not speaking from the sanctuary of my personal comfort zone. Community, for me, is vital, but not natural. I am a certified introvert who happens to love people. I have a million reasons for not going to your event, most of which are rooted in my own low-grade anxiety about what will happen there. I also have a photographic memory for my own failings. I still remember that time I embarrassed myself in front of you in the fourth grade. And next year I will be 50.

So I often have to talk myself into doing life with others.

But I am nearly always blessed when I do.

So let’s find the ways we can get together.

And let’s stay together.

You never know when you’ll need a friend.

(Photo Credit: Nubia Navarro)

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[1] Steve Paulson, “‘I Am Because We Are’: The African Philosophy of Ubuntu,” To The Best Of Our Knowledge, September 30, 2020, https://www.ttbook.org/intervi....

[2] Nkem Ifejika, “The Question: What Does Ubuntu Really Mean?,” The Guardian, September 28, 2006, https://www.theguardian.com/th....

[3] Allison Task, “What Is Ubuntu Philosophy & What Can We Learn from It?,” Allison Task, October 13, 2023, https://allisontask.com/ubuntu....

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