Neighboring: from Conflict to Compassion

I just started reading the book “Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers” by Michael G. Long (2015). In Chapter 2, Rogers is quoted as saying “so often conflicts arise from lack of communication, false assumptions or confusion, and that’s what happens in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.”(p. 6)  [From “War Enters World of Mister Rogers,” Associated Press, published in Calgary Herald, November 8, 1983, accessible at]

This reminded me of a conversation I had this week with a friend who was telling me about hosting her first "SoCe Life-inspired" block party in her quiet suburban neighborhood. “Jane” described how she printed off ¼ sheet paper invitations and had her kids deliver them to all the houses on their block. Her kids clarified, “EVERY house?” They clearly didn’t want to go to the rental house next door. “Yes, EVERY house on the street.” Jane explained that they never see anyone from that house outside, there always seem to be abandoned vehicles in the driveway and an assortment of random broken items in the backyard. When the kids returned, they exclaimed, “no one answered the door at that house and we all breathed a sigh of relief!”

On the day of the block party, most neighbors at least stopped by to introduce themselves, but it was not until the final 30 minutes that a woman from the house next door walked over. Jane told me, “they are the most misunderstood people on the street. I really wanted to talk to them to try to build a bridge. There are little annoyances about the family, but it’s probably due to misunderstanding.” There was not much food left, but Jane brought over a plate of fruit to welcome the neighbor as she sat down at the picnic table. It was such a simple gesture, but it sparked warm conversation. The neighbor said how much she loved picking blackberries and how the ones in the store just aren’t the same. Jane shared how much she had enjoyed picking blackberries with her dad when she was a child. That’s all it took to start building that bridge. Jane reflected, “really she was the most interesting person I talked to at the block party. She’s the most amazing person on the street because she has had the most careers. I could probably learn something from her because she is a successful small business owner.” And it turned out that the nuisance car (with a flat tire) in the driveway belongs to the woman’s son. Just like all the neighbors, she wishes he would come and pick it up, but he is in the process of a divorce.

I love how this illustrates Mister Rogers’ point that conflict often comes from confusion, lack of communication, and false assumptions. Jane's block party opened a channel for communication and resolution of false assumptions. Most of all, Jane's compassion for the nextdoor neighbor with the hectic, stressful life is beautiful!