I thought about this Advice and Query and found two common sentiments (I’ll let you decide if you believe them to be commandments or beliefs) that have a basis in this A and Q.
1. Love thy neighbor.
Seems simple enough. Neighbors are those people who live near us. People that are in close proximity to us. Near enough to share common walls, hallways, sidewalks, streets, schools, churches, diners, post office, pharmacy, gas station, and the list continues. But what happens when a stranger comes into our neighborhood? And how large of area do we include in our definition of community?
2. Good fences make good neighbors.
Humans seem to need some kind of physical demarcation to represent ownership and responsibly. Through out history a fence has helped to decrease arguments over who has access or rights to an area. Here’s the thing: Who decides where a fence can be built? Can relationships be strengthened by the type of fence that is built? Is there an invitational gate to encourage relationship?
Geoffrey Durham’s The Spirit of The Quakers gives us the Advice and Query #17 from our Friends in Britain:
#17 “Do you respect that of God in everyone, though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern?”
Neighbors are how close? How far away? Our neighbors dress the same or differently than we do? Worship the same or different than we do? Follow dietary regimes the same or different? Wear visible signs of our same culture or a different culture? Where do we quietly, invisibly “drawn the line” between acceptance or disenfranchisement? When do we embrace or recede? How do we respond when we feel threatened by difference?
As for fences . . .how do we discern when a fence builds community rather than shuns the unwanted of being different? The fence that keeps the dog in the yard, but allows neighbors to lean on and talk to each other seems to be a good neighbor fence. I would make the observation that if a solid fence was built that allowed for no ability to make eye contact or have a conversation, that it would be a fence that promoted distrust and fear. Fences come in all forms. Perhaps we ought to look at our world in terms of what might be consider a fence.
If we are to address that of seeking to find the goodness in every man, than we need to look first to our neighbors and to the “fences” that are erected. And then ask ourselves what is it that enhances or impedes the ability to live with equality and respect with our neighbors.
Something to think about on this First Day.
Be gentle with yourself and your neighbors.