I like that saying, “You don’t fear people whose stories you know.” I have come to believe that listening brings people together and that trust is more easily established when we know the people around us.
Several years ago I forged a friendship with a young man who had spent most of his life in prison, a violent offender who had done heartbreaking things and now he was trying to get his life back in order. He had a girlfriend, two babies, and he was jobless and afraid. I found it strange, really. I thought that I should be the one who was afraid – of him! But there was one difference that made it possible for me to relax and enjoy my time with him – I knew his story.
Stories are illuminating, they dispel prejudice and chase away fears. Stories have a way of bringing two very different people together. Here’s something more: stories are the magical ingredients that make up the very best neighbourhoods.
We’re all new in the part of the Rainbow Falls neighbourhood where I live, and I’m looking forward to hearing the stories of the people on my street. This winter I was privileged to get to know our next door neighbours, it was a joy to hear their stories and share ours. A coffee together and a chat or two was enough for me to think, “wow, we got some pretty fantastic neighbours!” A few weeks later something surprising happened. As we stood in our yards talking about garden plans and joking about our yappy dogs, we got talking about what kind of fence we should build together. Almost without a thought we both said, “what if we don’t build a fence at all?”
Now we’re looking forward to something we didn’t expect, an open, fenceless yard between us and neighbours that we’ve come to trust, enjoy, and look forward to knowing more and more.
Our TV news and Facebook feeds are full of crime stories, political stories and economic stories that seem fueled by fear and broken trust. These stories are enough to make us think that this is how the world turns. So we close out the ‘baddies’ around us and find ways to keep to ourselves.
But those stories of fear are not the stories that should drive how we view and interact with our neighbours. We have the opportunity to tell stories that build trust and dissipate fear. When we tell our stories and hear the stories of the people in our neighbourhood, it changes the whole dynamic of how we engage with those who live around us. It changes the very fabric of our city.
Into the Neighbourhood Experiment: Think of the people on your street that you don’t know. What assumptions have you made about them that keep you from trusting them? Now, keeping in mind the saying, “You don’t fear people whose stories you know,” make time this week to get to know the stories of neighbours you don’t know. Tell someone about your experience. How did it go?