Today’s topic has several meanings.
First, know your literal, next-door neighbors.
Know their names and phone numbers. Yes, this means you might have to introduce yourself after having lived in your neighborhood or apartment complex for several years. (If your neighbors are a little weird, maybe use a Google Voice number so you don’t have to change your real number later.) Do it, just find a reason. Heck, blame me, I can take it. I’ve got four teenagers, everything is my fault anyway. UGH, I am the worst.
Know so you can call them if you get stuck in a ridiculous traffic jam and can’t get home to let poor Fido out.
Know your neighbors so that you can pick up their packages. I mean, really, you signed up to NextDoor and heard about the porch pirates in the area. You also know they don’t get home until late in the evening, and you saw the FedEx truck arrive early in the day. You don’t want them to worry when their package isn’t there when they get home. Please smile at their Ring camera AND send a text when you pick up the package. I mean YOU aren’t a porch pirate and don’t want to end up with your photo on Nextdoor, right? Right.
Also, know them so you can check-in if you don’t see them for a while to make sure everything is okay with them. If you have an elderly neighbor who is normally out tending her plants and the plants start looking poorly and she didn’t mention going to visit her grandkids, give her a call. Maybe she is on vacation and just forgot to ask someone to keep an eye on her plants, but aren’t you glad you asked?
Know your GEOGRAPHICAL neighbors.
You have a battery-operated weather radio, right? Right. How can you make sense of that monotone voice if you don’t know your neighboring counties and their general direction? Where is Rutherford County? Is that to our North northwest? or South southeast? Do we have to go sit in the closet now? See, knowing will help determine how long you spend in a stuffy closet or chilling in a storm cellar if you are lucky enough to have one of those.
How much is enough? It depends on where you live.
If you are out in the plains states, well, your monster tornadoes can go a long way even though your counties are gargantuan.
If you’re in New England, your states and counties are pretty tiny so severe weather can impact quite a few counties as it moves through.
I can’t think “Tri-State Area” without hearing Doofenschmirtz, one of my favorite villains of all time, thank you very much, but I think it’s a pretty reasonable range to be at least a little familiar with IF you are in a smaller state or near a border of a couple of states. If you are in the middle of a big state with gigantic counties—looking at you, Texas—know Texas.
But Heather, where can I find a resource to learn the counties in my state? Don’t worry your pretty little head; I’ve got you covered. The 2000 Census has an excellent resource with a list of state by state county outline maps. If this gets updated, I will update the link.
Know Your Physical Neighbors, Wherever You Are
This is being written in 2021 after many of us haven’t gone many places beyond the grocery store in the last year, but it counts even in the grocery store. Ask me sometime about my ridiculously bad encounter with a terrible person* at Aldi’s a couple of months ago. All I’m going to say publicly is you have probably never seen Aldi’s open up so many registers so quickly. There’s a six-foot guideline for a reason, and she had no idea I had that much emotional baggage hidden in my cart in addition to that week’s worth of groceries for a family of eight. She needed to step back; I had nowhere I could go. I had made the mistake of letting someone in my bubble without paying attention, and I was too wrapped up in making sure I had everything on my list.
*She could have just been having a bad day. I know I’d just been about to ask if she wanted to cut me in line when things went sideways.
The point is always to be aware of who is around you when you are out and about. This counts for in traffic, too. The next time you are out driving, pay attention to how many signs have been damaged by people just going off the road. Maybe they had to stop suddenly to avoid hitting another car, or perhaps they were driving under the influence. I don’t know. All I know is that just on the drive from here to my kids’ school (only a few miles), we see the evidence of a LOT of single-car accidents in the mornings. We don’t have that many deer, so it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduct inattentive driving or driving under the influence as a likely part of the problem.
This awareness doesn’t count only for yourself. Pay attention, and don’t be scared to make a scene if you have to. That scene may matter. Be a little nosy. Watch those interactions.
This scenario is pretty stereotypical, but it’s just an example scenario, so bear with my heteronormativity (as I’m sure my kids will fuss at me for):
Did that guy buying that tipsy girl another drink arrive with her? Go ahead and take a slight detour to the restroom when she goes to make sure she’s okay. (If you’re not a female home-eccer, obviously don’t follow her into the restroom. Check-in with the bartender and ask a couple of questions.) The important thing to remember is this. You can always apologize for being a little nosy. You don’t want to bear the burden of staying silent if something happens and you didn’t say anything.
This next part is very important and has to be said:
There is a caution I want to add to the first and last situations, and it’s going to be a little hard to phrase correctly because I am white and therefore privileged in ways that I often take for granted. When I say be nosy, I don’t mean you should interfere in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) existing and going about their lives. A BIPOC person walking down the street is not suspicious and just because you don’t recognize them is no reason to report it on Nextdoor or to the police. Stop and think. If the person were white and doing exactly what this person is doing, would it cause you concern? No? Move along and mind your own business. We ALL have biases. If we are ever going to improve as a society, it’s critical to allow ourselves time for second thoughts to check and question our first thoughts before speaking or acting. There’s too much hate in this world, don’t add to it.