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Forty years ago, the doorbell ringing at my parent's house meant we had unannounced or unexpected visitors — and we were happy about it!

Contrast that to how we respond today. At my family's house, if the doorbell rings, we turn the lights off, and everybody hits the floor. I crawl to the door and peek through the glass to see who it might be.

I am exaggerating a little. But I think we can admit that we have a doorbell phobia now. As a culture, we have become more self-focused, and our neighbor relationships have suffered.

I am writing from first-hand experience.

You see, I was a great neighbor until I discovered that I was not.

I was going along doing the things American culture now says that every neighbor should do. I mow my yard. I pick up my dog's poo on walks. I do not throw loud parties. I do not park my car on the road. I keep my garage door down. I put up Christmas lights (in November) and take them down (in January). And I wave at my neighbors when outside.

Then in 2019, my journey of neighboring self-discovery began by reading “The Art of Neighboring” by Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak. Before I had finished the first chapter, I realized I was a terrible neighbor!

I had created my own personal and convenient way to be a neighbor. The opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy, and I did not even care enough to learn my neighbors' names.

This “art of neighboring” concept began in a suburban area of Denver when a city mayor asked a group of church leaders to get their congregations to start taking neighboring seriously.

They learned that there is great power in drawing a circle around the places we live and then working out from there. One of the most important things we can do is commit to learning and retaining and using the names of the people who live right around us.

When I began to do this in my life, it meant I needed to go and eat some crow. I had to walk across the street and have conversations like this, “Hey, I know that we've lived next to each other for 18 months, and I know that I've met three times, but I forgot your name.”

As I started to do that, I did something vital. I went home and wrote down the names of the people who lived right around me.

Learning your neighbor's names is a great first step. It moves you from, “Hey, man,” to, “Hey, Matt,” to, “Hey, Matt, how are things going?” “Hey, why don't you guys just come over and watch the game?” This does not happen overnight. It is a 12-18-month journey, but it never starts if you do not learn the person's name.

Filling out a block map (download map example) can help kick off this progression of moving from stranger to acquaintance to having a relationship as a neighbor. Starting with those around you is the single best place to start.

It is like I have been living next to a gold mine, but I was too busy to know there was gold next door.

I am learning that there are people right around me that have incredible things to share with me and others. It is like I have been living next to a gold mine, but I was too busy to know there was gold next door.

Could it be that the cure for our nation's anger and loneliness epidemic is right under our nose?

We must get uncomfortable. We must get up off our couch. We must prioritize our life with the essential things, bring some margin to our crazy busy lives, and reach out to our neighbors a bit every week.

Who is my neighbor? Let's make it a goal to discover the answer to that question together.

David Burton

David Burton has served as a County Engagement Specialist with University of Missouri Extension for over 20 years. To learn more about his “Engaged Neighbor” program, go online to or contact him by email or telephone at (417) 881-8909. More by David Burton