This article first appeared in the August 2017 edition of Itchen Valley News
‘The five neighbour test’
Lucy and I, and a number of other volunteers, have, during July, been knocking on doors in the Valley with the Who Cares? survey. The whole point of this survey is that it is anonymous and that the householder we are visiting is invited to write down on a card ‘the one thing in life which you find hardest to handle’, while the canvasser looks away. The response card is then put in a blank white envelope to make it impossible to know who has said what. But there are some people in the Valley who, wonderfully, just cannot help themselves and speak out their biggest concern immediately! One lady who has lived in the Valley for many decades said to me ‘I’m going to tell you what really hurts’…I said ‘but you write it down on the card, so its anonymous…’ she replied ‘no, I’m going to tell you anyway….what really hurts me the most is that we don’t look after each other anymore, in the way that we used to’. So I have been thinking a bit about what she said and this article is a response to that lady and her comment.
I think that many of us will say that actually we are quite good at looking after each other in the Valley. There are many incredible examples of good neighbourliness. Almost all those whose funerals I have conducted in the few years that I have been here, have spoken to me before their deaths of the wonderful care that is available in the Valley for those in their last few weeks and months (I will spare blushes by not mentioning the names of those who come to mind, who provide this wonderful help). And there is clearly a lot of care between neighbours going on in the community both for young and old.
But I sense that we may be on the cusp of a change here, as other priorities may be starting to squeeze out time spent on looking out for neighbours and community building activities. It’s difficult to ascertain this except by anecdotes, but I know that some feel that it is becoming noticeably more difficult to recruit for community organizations which make the Valley the place that it is, like the church, the cricket club and the village halls. And of course we have seen this year the cancellation of the Easton Village Fete after 50 years, because no-one to organize it could be found. Also, I was also struck by one conversation at the excellent Brew with a View which Ina Williams runs in Easton Village Hall on Wednesday afternoons (between 3 and 5pm): One villager to another villager meeting for the first time: ‘How long have you lived in Easton?’ ‘Oh 20 years’, ‘Well that’s extraordinary so have I….’
I have been musing on why time for community and neighbours might be drying up and wonder whether we are now more, as a society, focused on CV virtues rather than Eulogy Virtues. This is a distinction made by Simon Sinek the author of best selling business book ‘Start with Why’, whom I heard speak at a conference recently. He argues that we now spend our lives focusing on CV virtues – virtues which will get us a good job in a competitive marketplace – academic qualifications, the posts we have held, the deals we have done, the challenging experiences we have had. But we don’t spend enough time focusing on Eulogy Virtues – the things that people want to hear about us at our funerals. Eulogy Virtues are the embodiment of ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ which, along with loving God with your whole heart mind and spirit, is one of the two great commandments taught to us by Jesus. What I think you want to hear about at a funeral is what the deceased was like as a human being – what they did for others, the difference they made to other peoples’ lives. These are the virtues which resound in eternity and which cascade down the generations, when the CV virtues are really of no significance at all; just history…
One mother in one of the villages said to me the other day that there can be a bit of an arms race for qualifications for children (CV Virtues) between families: if little Jasper is doing a sudoko course then little Horatio’s mum thinks that he should do one as well. The result is that the parents spend their time tearing around the country lanes trying to get all of these additional CV points – time which could be spent focusing on our neighbours and teaching our children Eulogy Virtues.
So a test to see how engaged we are with our neighbours: five questions about five neighbours. This is based on the idea that there are 500 households approximately in the Valley and thus if 100 of us were looking after our 5 closest neighbours, then everyone would be covered:
Of the 5 neighbours most closely situated to your house (not just any five neighbours in the community and not just neighbours at the same age and stage):
- Do you know their names?
- Do you know the names of their children and pets?
- Do you know what life stage their children or parents are at?
- Do you know what is their professional background – jobs they are doing now or have done in the past?
- Would they know that you are there for them in a crisis?
Now I know that there is probably history between you – you may say ‘but he throws weeds in my garden’ – this process will involve forgiveness – sorry about that…..
I was so struck the other day by one mother who turned up at our door with all her children bearing a gift of freshly made bread – which she had made with her children. ‘Do you know anyone in our community who would be blessed by receiving this bread?’ she asked. I suggested the name of a recently widowed lady in her village. And the widow was delighted by this small act of kindness. The mother was modelling to her children Eulogy Virtues. What could possibly be a more important use of time than that?