More than a few years ago, in a previous life, I taught high school students about health.
At the beginning of each term as we started our class together we talked about what we were going to be learning and it was natural to discuss just what “health” or being “healthy” means. It’s hard to learn about something or move towards something if you don’t know what it is.
The first concept to emerge was always healthy is not being sick or the absence of illness.
That definition of health falls prey to the fallacy of defining something by telling what it is not and leaves the question of what it is unanswered. As we discussed health in the realms of more than physical, to include mental and social well-being, an idea would gradually emerge from the students that perhaps health was more than a state of being without sickness, but a direction towards self-potential, a kind of Maslovian self-actualization.
The official World Health Organization definition of health is “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Saturday evening, April 30, at the invitation of the Tooele County Health Department, I sat and listened to Dave Runyon, author of the Art of Neighboring, talk about building relationships with our neighbors in the community room at the Tooele City Police Department.
Runyon had some very compelling statistics that showed that in neighborhoods where people knew each other there was a drop in violent and property crimes. Neighborhoods where people know their neighbors were perceived as being safer places.
So, thought I, a good neighborhood is one without “social illnesses” of crime and poverty. Kind of like health, a good neighborhood is to be known by what it isn’t.
But then Runyon expanded the idea of a good neighborhood. Good neighborhoods are united, secure, engaged, and people respect people regardless of differences.
Here was the other half of a healthy neighborhood, not just what a healthy neighborhood isn’t, but what a healthy neighborhood is, or could be.
A healthy neighborhood is a good place to raise a family, a safe place for an older couple to enjoy life, a place where a single neighbor is welcome, where neighbors know each other — where being a neighbor is more than just a matter of physical proximity, but one of friendship that transcends differences.
Runyon had a suggestion of where to start in building such a neighborhood. He told people to take a piece of paper or a sticky note and draw a tic-tac-toe board. Put your house in the center square, he said. Then imagine that the other squares represent the homes around you — in front and behind, to the right and left, and diagonally.
Runyon then asked everybody to write the first names of the people that lived in each of those houses around them in the appropriate square.
The game or assignment was to affix the tic-tac-toe board to the refrigerator door and as you get to know your neighbors write their first names in the square representing their house.
Getting to know their names could be as simple as a one-minute conversation next time you see them outside. Instead of just a smile and wave, try a simple question.
A fresh loaf of bread or a plate of cookies can open doors of old neighbors just as well as new move-ins; “Hey, you’ve been our neighbor for a while and we’ve never really met. We were baking and thought about you. Here’s some ….. What was your name?”
And a short conversation may ensue.
If you’re really daring, invite a neighbor over for a meal or organize a block party with the help of neighbors you already know.
You’ve got nothing to lose and new friends and a stronger healthier community to gain, according to Runyon.
So make that tic-tac-toe board, post it, and start filling in the squares until you have a blackout.