Snow shovel: an olive branch?

Posted on November 25, 2011

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I received a leaflet through my letterbox yesterday. ‘Help your neighbours if it snows’, it said, encouraging me to clear the pavement outside my front door and, if necessary, do the job for the elderly next door.

What a lovely sentiment, I thought. Here we are, in an age where we will go to great lengths to avoid eye contact with anybody, and somebody has thought to encourage us to do our neighbours a favour.

It doesn’t take much to flip this view on its head, though. Why don’t we talk to our neighbours anymore? Why does nobody pop round for a cup of tea? Why don’t we make the effort to develop a sense of community? Should we need asking to help out less agile people in the winter?

It’s sad but true, and I’ve noticed it ever more since moving to London. I’ve lived in several flats in my time, and communications with others in the building were either 1) a brief mumbled ‘hello’ when bumping in to one of them as we both try to shuffle through the front door, or 2) banging on their door to tell them to shut the hell up with their music at three in the morning, hair like a bird’s nest and wearing inside-out pyjamas.

We will, however, communicate online quite freely. Pretty much every day I ‘speak’ to somebody who I have never made contact with before, and on the most varied of subjects – pensions, fruit tea, poor customer service.

It’s far easier behind a computer screen than face to face, and less ‘weird’ factor – imagine how you’d react if you were walking along the street with a friend, chatting about fruit tea, and somebody you happened to walk by chimed in with, “Personally, I think they all taste like cardboard.”

There are some tiny grains of hope, though. A few weeks ago, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I love your handbag.” A simple thing, but in a world of anonymity, it showed a human factor so rarely seen. The other day, my partner bumped into the next door neighbour at our shared gate and, instead of nodding and shuffling on by, they introduced themselves.

It shouldn’t take a snow shovel for us to care about our neighbours, our community, or just plain old other people. But it’s a little prompt, and I for one will be shoveling snow off the pavements this winter.

Image from Sabrina Tang‘s Flickr photostream.

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