There are people we like, and then there’s everyone else. Moving into a community and discovering that it is full of people we could see ourselves getting along with is exciting. If we have kids we imagine a neighbourhood where our kids can play and run with other kids. If we’re single we hope to have a community of similarly single people. If we are retired we might feel attracted to a retirement community.
Our list of demands could grow. We might want to be around those who speak the same language, with the same economic background, similar hobbies, and complementary values and ambitions. In the end, we often want our neighbours to look, sound, and act a lot like us.
Science has discovered that we get a chemical rush when we’re around people like us. Players on the same sports team or soldiers marching together all experience a dopamine rush when they work together. It makes us happy to be with those who are like us, and these same studies show that we feel less happy when we’re not part of a tribe or a group.
But gathering in our affinity groups, with like minded people, does not change us or our community in a way that moves us all forward. Character is built when we choose to see, welcome, and show genuine hospitality to those who are not like us. While it might be a natural chemical-driven instinct to gather with our tribe in a cluster, civilization is built when we step across the line and understand others. Communities thrive only when they learn to embrace the stranger and welcome them in as our own.
We cannot choose our families, for example, we are born into them. Our absurd grandfather, hilarious aunt, and awkward cousins are a part of our lives whether we like it or not. We might cringe at family gatherings when we look around at the diverse group we are a part of, they are not often the ideal we might imagine. Yet this is the group that loves us, and that is what makes families special, unique, and life-giving. You are welcome around the table no matter what because your welcome is not dependent on your similarities, but on a wide affection they have for you, and you for them.
The same is true of our neighbourhoods. When we see and appreciate our neighbours as a mixed gathering of dissimilar people, we begin to change the way we relate. We do not like them because they are the same as us, we appreciate them because they are our neighbours. Their proximity alone is the reason we consider knowing them, not because they offer anything we need.
In other words, we have affection for our neighbours because we choose to do so. Our decision to love and enjoy the mix of people who live in our apartment or neighbourhood is not so difficult if we decide that the reward is in the discovery of new stories, and the satisfaction of knowing and being known.
When we choose to have affection for our neighbours, the list of those we like begins to grow, and so does the shape of our heart and character.