Recommendations by Karen B
Won’t you be my neighbour?

With all this time we are spending at home this year, many of us are seeing our neighbours more frequently. Whether it’s a friendly over-the-fence “hello” or a wave while out for walk, we are running into folks on the street a bit more often. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the elderly neighbour on her front porch, a new mom pushing a stroller, or the fellow on the corner with the excited new puppy. But how do you get beyond hello?

Feet crossing roadI had a short outdoor chat with a neighbour yesterday and learned more about him in those 15 minutes than I had in the last 15 years. I asked him one question: “Have you been able to stay in touch with family?” As a result, I learned how he misses his adult children  and that he is retired from the U.S. Air Force. I mentioned that my husband once worked doing scientific research at an Air Force base, and we made an instant, 15-year delayed connection. I was thrilled to learn more about this neighbour and what brought him to Canada (love, of course).

I’d be delighted to learn more about all my neighbours so that they are more than faces, names or appendages to dog leashes. This made me wonder how I could meet and converse more successfully with all my neighbours and friends.

Here are a few tips I gleaned from various sources, such as Relationships Australia.

  1. Walk more—for physical and mental health. Slow down and say “hello” when you see your neighbours, but make sure you bring a mask if you’re going to stop and chat.
  2. Volunteer. Getting out and doing something to help others, even meeting other volunteers online will feed your soul. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, you might reach out to Community Care or a group like Ontario Ancestors (Kawartha Branch) or serving on a board at the Art Gallery of Peterborough.
  3. Ask questions. You can explore games and conversation card sets as well as apps that promote meaningful conversation, but you might start with some of these:Vertellis conversation game
  • “How are your friends and family?” It was a simple courtesy for Jane Austen but thoughtfulness works in any era. “At length, however, his civility was so far awakened as to inquire of Elizabeth after the health of her family” (Pride and Prejudice).
  • “What brought you to this street, to Peterborough, or to Canada?” On my block, there are many of us “from away,” as well as some who have lived here for over 50 years.
  • “Are you working on any projects or hobbies during the pandemic?” I was holding paint chips up to my house when a neighbour passed, and we started chatting about various paint colours and other projects we have on the go.
  • and the librarian’s favourite: “Have you read any good books lately?” You can always remind them that the library is still open for curbside pickup!

Cover of The Lost Art of Good Conversation4. Finally, you can always read about it. The Lost Art of Good Conversation by Rinpoche Akyong Mipham offers wisdom and mindfulness as an approach to more meaningful conversations with friends and neighbours. And if you want to build on these conversations, you might explore books on friendship.

The pandemic has taught us much about the importance of relationships but learning how to build and maintain them takes an effort. As we put in our daily exercise minutes for our physical health, it doesn’t hurt to add five more mental health minutes to chat with our neighbours and rebuild our friendship muscles.