I am no stranger to talking about love. Throughout the years, I have written about it in I Fall in Love, When Love Is Not Enough for Justice, Let People Love You: Community Care Knows No Boundaries, My Anniversary, and more. As you can tell from my posts, I discuss love in a number of contexts.
However, I live in a society where people tend to talk about love through very limited and specific contexts. If I say love, people often think about romance and passion first. If it is not the love of a partner or spouse, they think about love within a family context like the relationship between a parent and child, between siblings, or between a person and any number of people in their extended family.
I used to see a therapist who declared that the relationships within family were more intimate than those between friends. I begged to differ. I pointed out the ways in which friends could serve as chosen family, and I have a lot of chosen family. I believe that family love transcends blood or legality, and the worldly family is not always one’s spiritual family. (Due to disagreements such as this, I did not see that therapist for too long.)
Regardless of how you see friendship, there is still a place for discussing friends in the context of love whether or not someone views their friends as chosen family.
I would extend dialogues of love beyond one’s partners, family, or friends. I also think there is the basic love that humans extend to each other regardless of how intimate that relationship may be. On a very elementary level, I believe there is a particular degree of love that one may show colleagues, classmates, acquaintances, and strangers they encounter on the street.
I know there are people who do not approach life like this. As far as they are concerned, they look out for themselves and only for themselves. If they are being empathetic toward others, they reserve those feelings for the innermost circles of their social network. Through a “practical” lens, I understand that, but that mentality does not vibe with me entirely.
As you may remember from my last post Where Do We Go from Here?, I saw a bumper sticker that, politics aside, perpetuated this Us vs. Them mentality. It reinforced this belief that the welfare of others is in conflict with your own stability. I have observed this Us vs. Them mentality on more than one political side, and it is contributing to the decline of trust in society. That is a shame because that is not how I was raised.
When I was growing up, my parents sent me to church and to Christian school. Although I have not stepped near a church or Christian school in a long time, the command to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ according to Mark 12:31 has not fallen far from my heart. However, it has fallen far from the hearts of many people regardless of Whom, what, where, how, or why they worship—if they worship Anyone or anything at all.
When I was a kid, nobody told me that many adults were not incentivized to get to know their neighbors, much less love their neighbors.
My current neighborhood is the first place where I have gotten to know my neighbors through more than exchanged greetings on the streets or in building hallways. Truth is most of the neighbors I got to know were through the pandemic because I could not travel anywhere. Plus remote work removed the long commutes that would have taken me away from home from sunrise to sunset.
Due to the reckoning with racism of 2020, people started to form community groups, and I joined the leadership team of one of them. That is when I actually got to meet more neighbors and learn about my community at large. Did I like the context? No. However, I did like building relationships regardless of how simple or deep the connections flowed. I am an extrovert, and the isolation of the pandemic drained lots of my energy because there were not many non-work people in my daily life to refuel me.
Last month I read an article that resonated with me because it spoke to this very issue of work taking people away from their communities. Vox published the article Too much work makes bad neighbors by Anna North. In this article, North wrote:
Prior to the pandemic, work was a huge obstacle to community involvement, with lack of free time the most common reason Americans cited for why they didn’t volunteer. Covid-19 has shown that in an extraordinary moment, Americans can come together, but in our ordinary lives, we often just don’t have any extra time to give to others.
This article reminded me of what I liked about my upbringing. Because I was raised in a faith-based environment, I was constantly bombarded with messages of love, acceptance, and service to both others and myself. Some people forget that last part that focuses on self. After all, the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you do not love yourself well, how can you love anyone else?
Now there were some toxic elements of growing up in a religious environment. Patriarchy was one of them. Yes, there were classrooms, Bible studies, and church services that sometimes leaned toward a judgmental or bigoted interpretation of the Bible, but I accept that debate about spiritual ideals is part of immersing oneself in a faith-based environment. It does not have to be like that, but sometimes it is.
Anyway, I do not like that the pandemic came into this world, but I like some of the epiphanies it brought to my attention. So many people are clamoring to go back to their life before the pandemic, but I do not think it is possible to go back. I can only go forward.
I realize that I do not like how I had many jobs that were so long in hours or required such long commutes that I could not engage in my community. Community can mean neighborhood, town, or metropolitan area, but it can also mean community in the broader sense of the word. I have multiple intersecting identities, and my long, sometimes unpredictable, work hours took away from exploring those identities.
During one of my previous jobs, I enjoyed that my supervisor gave me a flexible schedule so that I could volunteer as a hotline counselor with a rape crisis center. When I switched to a job in a far suburb, I could not engage as frequently with that volunteer opportunity. My hotline supervisor really liked my work though, and she invited me to become of the peer leaders for the hotline. However, due to a few crucial reasons, working being one of them, I had to decline that invitation.
Sometimes I still wonder what it would have been like if I at the time had been in a job that would have enabled me to take on such an important role in addressing sexual violence in our metropolitan area and beyond. The position paid a humble stipend, but that stipend does not determine the value of a role.
I, of course, had to prioritize my full-time job with the long commute because that was what paid my bills and gave me essential benefits like health insurance.
When people ask me what I want out of my career now, I, of course, say that I want to hone my skills in what I currently do since I actually enjoy the heart of my work; however, I also want to continue investing time in my community. I do not believe this is an either/or choice; it can be a both/and situation.
The term work-life balance is very common. Sometimes I hear people use the term work-life integration to conceptualize the dynamic between work and life differently. However, I do not think it makes much of a major distinction. These very terms imply that work is separate from one’s life, but work is a large part of many people’s lives if you are considering people who work in a full-time job.
The truth is many of us spend most of our weekly hours with our colleagues rather than our friends and family if we have a full-time position. Now if your colleagues become your friends, that can make the day go by more smoothly, or not smoothly if you do not know how to set up work boundaries. Otherwise, many of us in full-time positions are spending the majority of our weekly hours with people other than the ones we deem most important in our lives.
If you do not believe me, think about all of the people who were in situations where they could not or cannot interact directly with family or friends due to public health practices during the pandemic. This left many of us with work without the happy hour or other activities to refuel ourselves after work.
Now lots of people lost their jobs or voluntarily resigned as part of The Great Resignation. Many employees were told that they should be grateful for whatever they could get with work, but The Great Resignation has proven otherwise. This movement seems to be telling me that people care about more than being a cog in a machine. For someone to quit at a time when a job would seem most essential shows that there is more to life than raises and promotions that mean endangering your family, your friends, your colleagues, your clients, your neighbors, and yourself.
If people are thriving during this time in the workforce, I would like to do a further evaluation of why that is, and what did they do or not do to foster public health and community care in their social circles.
Nobody pays you to be a good neighbor so there is no financial incentive to show significant support to one another. However, I would not be writing this post if it were not for people who chose to care for me when it did not increase their salary; when it did not enhance their prestige; or when it did not grant them recognition, titles, or awards that they could post on LinkedIn.
I honestly do not think I would be alive right now if people chose to prioritize work hours over being a good friend, neighbor, or human being. If you have been following my blog since Saying Goodbye to My Body (As I Know It), you know that I have endured more than two years of hardship and hope; however, the hope only exists because people have supported me in tangible ways.
Yes, I appreciate cards and calls where people wish me hope, but hope needs to be grounded in reality. There is a point where people have to go beyond giving Hallmark business and send more than thoughts and prayers. Yes, thoughts and prayers are valuable, but it has taken and will continue to take tangible community care for me to continue to survive and thrive for the remainder of this pandemic and beyond.
There is no growth without nurture, and the world is in a deficit of nurture.
You can wish me love, but we also need to make sure we are coming to a common understanding of love.
Love is so many things to me. At its core, this is what love is to me:
Love is truthful.
Love is safe.
Love is courageous.
Love is sacred.
What does love mean to you?
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