I read a study about neighborliness written by students from Finland. (Forest Park and Finland have a lot in common – especially when we’re under attack from a polar vortex.) Their findings confirm much of the behavior I’ve observed in suburbia.
They identified different levels of neighborliness: I’ll call them active, passive and negative. Being active with our neighbors means we socialize with them and don’t just call when we want something. Block parties help promote this. And, if we do require a three-quarter-inch socket wrench, we’re comfortable borrowing it from them. (If we borrow too frequently, the authors warn, we could end up in negative territory).
Passive neighborliness means we feel positive toward our neighbors but don’t regularly interact with them. Our favorable attitude means we’ll offer to help with chores when there is illness and bring meals when there’s a death in the family. Negative neighborliness means we don’t talk to each other and would not to turn to each other in times of need.
Neighborliness used to be essential for survival. There was no social safety net and people relied on neighbors and family to make it through tough times. In modern society, though, many suburbanites don’t feel the need to connect with their neighbors. After all, we live in the iPod age of increasing individualism.
These people are practicing what the study calls “avoidance.” They won’t confront their neighbors about negative behavior and they’re not likely to bring over a plate of cookies. They also aren’t likely to connect with their community. They don’t care if they’re living in Mt. Prospect or Buffalo Grove; they just want a place that’s safe, quiet and affordable.
It’s easy to criticize Outer Suburbia for not being neighborly: how they lack sidewalks, front porches and traditional downtowns. Forest Park, though, has all of these advantages and we still have plenty of residents who keep to themselves.
There are also many neighborly people in town. I’ll give you just one example. Last summer, I was walking past the home of a dear friend of my parents, Maggie Hanrahan, when she happened to be walking down her front stairs.
When I was growing up in Oak Park, Mrs. Hanrahan was known for her hospitality. After she and her late husband, Bob, moved to Mt. Carroll, Ill., they joined social and civic organizations and made many friends.
Now that she’s in Forest Park, Mrs. Hanrahan is continuing her neighborly ways. Her first words to me were, “John, where can I find a game of bridge around here?” I was teaching bridge at the library, at the time, and badly needed a veteran bridge player to assist me. Mrs. Hanrahan agreed to help and we’ve been teaching monthly bridge sessions ever since.
Sometimes we get eight to ten people. Once we only had one person but still had fun playing three-handed bridge. Our next class is Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. So, if you’d like to learn an endlessly fascinating card game, stop by. It would be right neighborly of you.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.