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“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: What are you going through?” (Simone Weil).
NEIGHBORLINESS INVOLVES BOTH AN ATTITUDE AND AN ACTION. It is both a spirit and a state of living. When we live neighborly lives we recognize that we are, for better or worse, connected to those around us, and we honor that connection by being willing to share one another’s sorrows and joys. To be a neighbor is to be able to say, as Simone Weil suggests: What are you going through?
Our neighbors are not simply those for whom we’d like to have a fond feeling, and they’re not just those whom we’d prefer to deal with if we could arrange our circumstances to suit ourselves. No, our neighbors are the folks with whom we’re called upon to deal in our actual circumstances. George MacDonald said it succinctly: “Your neighbor is the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you into contact.” These are the real people who are sorrowing and rejoicing around us. They are the ones to whom we must be able to say: What are you going through?
Neighborliness has to be shown by us personally. We can’t hire it done, and, worst of all, we can’t expect the government to do it. Hubert H. Humphrey, who as a politician believed that government should spend great sums to cure social ills, knew as a human being what all of us should know: “The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.” As tempting as it is to let society take care of our neighbors, that’s our job as individuals.
Angelus Silesius said, “What you wish for your neighbor, that you ask for yourself. If you don’t wish his good, you ask for your own death.” We can’t neglect others without hurting ourselves, but neither can we help others without uplifting ourselves. Somewhere deep inside, most of us know this to be true. We just need to act on what we know. We need to renew our appreciation of the old-fashioned virtue of neighborliness. What are you going through? has always been one of life’s most important questions. Let’s learn to ask it every single day.
“While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many” (Lady Bird Johnson).