At the end of December, as a second wave of the pandemic took hold of our nation, South Africa moved into an adapted lockdown level 3. For us that meant that beaches, parks, churches, and many public spaces were closed, alcohol sales ceased, and a curfew was imposed. When it was announced, the WhatsApp group for my neighbourhood lit up with angry messages. One person simply said, “This is bullshit!” I needed to understand why someone would react this way when infection and death rates were climbing at alarming rates, so I asked this person about their response. They replied that they were on vacation at a lake and couldn’t enjoy the water sports that they had hoped for. I resisted the urge to express my frustration that people were dying at alarming rates but they were more concerned about having a good time. I simply thanked them for explaining and left it at that.
Since this conversation, I’ve been wondering about Jesus’ command to love our neighbours. I’ve been wondering whether I was a loving neighbour in this exchange. Was it loving to avoid conflict and keep my thoughts to myself? Was it loving to ask the question in the first place? Was it loving to be so frustrated by their response to the lockdown announcement? What would the most loving response have been to this neighbour? To those who may have been exposed to the risk of infection if lockdown hadn’t happened? And to those whose livelihoods were threatened by further restrictions? Clearly, loving our neighbours is a complex undertaking!
OUR FRAGMENTED WORLD
What would a healthy society look like for you? We all want to live in communities of peace, friendliness, and mutual consideration. No one wants to fight with their neighbours or endure the conflict and division that plagues so much of our world. Almost all religions call their devotees to love others, and yet people of faith are often at the centre of violence and conflict. Somehow changing other people to be like us or to believe as we do has become more important than loving them as they are. The same faiths that teach love have become training grounds for domination and superiority. And, even though we believe that God (however we may understand God) created all people and loves all people, we still think that God is on our side.
How have we failed so magnificently to understand how to love one another? Is it because we view all love through a romantic, Hollywood-coloured lens? Is it because we define love as a feeling and nothing more? Is it because we know that it’s impossible to have warm, fuzzy feelings for everyone?
In the last few years, I have witnessed our global community become increasingly polarised, and it has disturbed and grieved me so deeply. And I’ve wondered what would happen if we could define love less as a feeling and more as a way of being and behaving. What if love was about what we do? When Jesus was asked how we should love our neighbours, he replied with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable says nothing about the Samaritan’s emotional state. It just tells us what he actually did for the man who had been mugged.
SIMPLE WAYS TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOURS
If we use Jesus’ parable as a starting point, we can identify simple, practical things we can do to love our neighbours. Here are a few suggestions:
Be A Good Neighbour
The simplest way to love the other people in our neighbourhoods is simply to be a good neighbour. Maintain an attitude of respect toward everyone in your community. Consider their needs and be aware when anything you may do could affect those around you. Be friendly and let your neighbours know if you will be hosting parties or celebrations that could increase traffic or noise in your street. It isn’t hard to do these things but they make a huge difference.
Live and Let Live
We all have convictions that we hold dear. While our neighbours may not agree with our values, we can be sure that they are just as committed to their beliefs as we are to ours. As long as their beliefs do not drive them to harm others in our neighbourhood, our best response is to respect their convictions and let them live according to their conscience. It should go without saying that resisting the urge to judge is one of the most basic ways to be loving. And that means that we should avoid making assumptions and always allow for the possibility that there are factors at work in our neighbours’ lives of which we are unaware.
If You Must Fight, Fight Fair
Even in the friendliest neighbourhoods conflict will sometimes arise. Conflict doesn’t mean that love is absent. It simply gives us a different opportunity to express love through our actions. So, maintain respect at all times, be generous, and seek mutually beneficial solutions. Be firm where necessary and maintain good boundaries. Avoid the temptation to turn conflict into a win-lose scenario. Be reasonable and, wherever possible, respect the freedom of others even if it’s inconvenient for you.
In our internet-connected world, we meet many of our neighbours online. We need to be loving on social media as much or more than in our geographical neighbourhoods. It’s tempting to let ourselves be drawn into the toxicity that can accompany online interactions, but that isn’t healthy for anyone. You cannot control how others interact, but you always have a choice about your own posts and comments. So be kind and respectful. Listen and seek to understand the other. Respond slowly, and always reread what you intend to say before you post. And if you sense things are becoming unhelpful, check out. Remember, it’s always ok to unfriend, unfollow, or even block those who stir up the worst in you.
For a great conversation about online interactions see Steve Carter’s podcast with me and Dion Forster.
IMAGINE A WORLD OF GOOD NEIGHBOURS
A couple of years ago my next-door neighbour informed us that he wanted to repair the wall between our two properties. He refused our offer to pay half the costs and explained that he only wanted our permission for the workers to come into our garden and to cut back some of our plants. He was kind, generous, and respectful of our need for privacy. We agreed and the work was done quickly and with little inconvenience to us. Whenever I think back on this interaction, I am grateful that I have such a good, loving neighbour. I only hope that he feels the same about me.
How do you work on loving your neighbours? What suggestions do you have for being a good neighbour to those in your community? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments. Share this article with your neighbours on social media and start a conversation about loving one another. Like or follow EvoFaith on social media so that we can continue the journey into healthy spirituality together. And if you want to be part of a community that actively works to be loving toward one another, then join us in the EvoFaith Tribe.
Imagine what the world would be like if we all simply did our best to be good neighbours? Well, we can start to create that world right now. Are you in?
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