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Neighbourly niceties


Neighbourly niceties

Jane Stephens says good neighbours are like gold and we need to nurture our relationships with them.

I am blessed on both sides with the best neighbours a person could wish for. We are friendly and know each other well enough to share news of life’s big events, have a laugh and an occasional drink. We also respect privacy and don’t crowd each other.

We tolerate each other’s lively social gatherings, renovations and firepits on weekends, and trust each other to keep an eye open for odd bods lurking if we know the other household is away.

Perhaps I love my neighbours more because I know what it is to have difficult ones, and because it is accepted that most neighbourhoods are the distant, walk-on-by kind and mine is not that way.

You know the ones — those who duck past opportunities to help and ignore a sniff of trouble because we have been sold the idea that if does not involve us, it does not concern us.

But to that I say humbug. Other people’s lives do sometimes involve us because our society is as strong as our weakest link. Sometimes all it can take to help someone in trouble is simply asking if they are okay.

The recent Mental Health Awareness Week highlighted that never has there been a time when we needed community more.

For 50 years, there has been a recognised psychological phenomenon called the bystander effect. It has been proven that in the modern era, individuals are less likely to offer help when other people are present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will approach or help.

Several factors contribute to the bystander effect, including the diffusion of perceived responsibility and a lack of community cohesiveness.

Neighbours and neighbourhoods are the cornerstone of community and in my experience, good ones are gold.

Our neighbours in recent years have shared nourishing chats, beautiful baking and interesting community information. They have stepped in when we forgot to close our garage door and fed our fish in our absence. We return the love too, and so a community is created.

In this world of looking in on people’s lives via social media, people increasingly step back instead of forward. But the peace and safety of a community relies on trust, reciprocity and compassion.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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