When I was young I had a friend who loved trains. Ok, no, scratch that. He ADORED trains. He had model trains in his basement, posters of his favourite locomotives on his bedroom walls, and every back issue of “Trains, Trains, Trains Magazine.” I remember a time driving in a car with my friend when we had to stop at a train crossing. I cannot describe how excited he was. He knew every model, every train car, every manufacturer and I would not be surprised if he knew the names of the conductors. His passion for trains was explosive, and although it didn’t rub off on me, I was more than pleased to hear him go on about his favourite hobby. Instead of creating a divide between us, our differences became a point of conversation and friendship.
When we look around us, it’s easy to see how different we are from others. Our passions and hobbies, our gifts and skills, even our ethnicities or political leanings can seem entirely unlike those of the people who live in our neighbourhood. In communities and neighbourhoods that are not functioning well, differences can become a source of conflict. Competent neighbourhoods, however, are places where neighbours have begun to see the value in the diversity of gifts, skills, passions, and interests of the people who make up the neighbourhood. Competent neighbourhoods, instead of seeing the differences that divide, they see opportunity for collaboration, for inclusion, and for fun.
I heard a story of a woman in a neighbourhood who noticed that the kids on her street didn’t have much to do after school. She didn’t think that she had any particular skills with caring for kids, but she decided that she would create something wonderful for them anyway. Each week she would put together a neighbourhood-wide scavenger hunt for the kids. She would draw up a map of the neighbourhood, plant clues and set them up for a big adventure. Soon a weekly club was formed and kids from all over would come to get in on her scavenger hunt. Neighbours and a seniors group pitched in and helped by planting goodies in their yards. It became a phenomenal success. Young kids were meeting seniors, and each week the kids were learning about their neighbourhood and the people who lived there. It’s an amazing story of a person who felt that she couldn’t help kids, and in turn discovered that she was gifted with exactly what those kids needed.
Differences between age, interests, hobbies, and passions do not need to be a source of conflict for us. God created each person on your street with a diversity of gifts and skills that reflect his own creative character. When we start to see people around us as people created with amazing interests and abilities, we may be taking the first step in truly appreciating and loving others. As we start to care for each other, in spite of our differences, we transform the ways that we live and thrive together as a city.
Into the Neighbourhood Experiment: Are there people on your street with interests that are different from your own? Are there gardeners, motorcycle enthusiasts, woodworkers, bakers, investment bankers? Take time this weeks to learn about, and appreciate, the different skills and gifts present on your street.