Neighbors Should Live As Friends

What happens when we go back to our roots and think about how Neighbors should live as friends?

By Angela Blanchard

I struggled all weekend with what to write about the events of the past month. Everything I thought and felt seemed too raw and real and personal to share with all of you. But, our work does not exist outside or apart from the events in the world. BakerRipley is meant to be responsive to the world around us. One of our early founders, W.D. Cleveland, supported the creation of settlement houses and community centers, because, as he said, “neighbors should live as friends”.

I just recently returned from Germany. A country leading the struggle to welcome newcomers, to make a place for over a million Syrian refugees. German leaders have stepped up to say, this needs to be done and we can do it. This decision to do the work of welcome has provoked the rise of ugly sentiments and threats. And even among the most generous leaders, there is worry. They remembered (I did not) that the 9/11 murders were carried out by terrorists who came through Germany. German officials are working to marry humanitarian response with safety and security measures. Divisions in Great Britain over immigration drove a successful “Brexit” campaign that threatens the European Union and disrupted financial markets, social systems and business interests across Europe. Just before I left for Germany, on June 23rd, our Supreme Court failed to address the status of millions of people here – leaving families stranded in a purgatory of uncertainty. I was still feeling sick about the murder of 49 people in Orlando on June 12th. As I moved from meeting to meeting in Berlin, visiting shelters and learning from elected officials, news of the bombing in Istanbul erupted. On July 12, we watched the video of Philando Castile being shot to death, two days after we saw Baton Rouge police throw Alton Sterling to the ground, sit on top of him, and shoot him to death. If you were watching, as I was, the marches all over the country, following demonstrators on Twitter, you may have seen the pictures of officers in Dallas taking pictures with protestors, holding “Black Lives Matter” posters between them. Everyone smiling and tweeting about the community coming together and peacefully calling for more constraint and less killing. And then the shooting started and one by one, individual videos streaming live, we all heard the screams and anguish as five officers died in pools of blood, doing their duty.

From Great Britain to Germany, Istanbul to Orlando, Minnesota, Baton Rouge and Dallas, it is clear we are struggling to be “neighbors living as friends”. Our trending hashtag is not “#gettingalong” or “#one world”.

What all of these events have in common is fear, rage and violence. Fear that leads to violence. We have rewritten all of our scary stories and now they are all about our neighbors. And every new act of violence suggests we were right to fear. And arm ourselves against one another. And build more walls. And make more wars. Our fears are poisoning our plans, fouling our future, destroying our dreams for our children. What we imagine now is not what we want to create together, but what we are trying to avoid.

I want to return to the basics of why we exist as an agency, why the entire nonprofit sector exists. It comes down to what we can do for one another. There are just two kinds of help. We can help one another realize our full potential; teach and nurture, train and coach one another, so we might use our gifts and strengths. So that we might have a place in the world.

The second kind of help is to eliminate unnecessary suffering. Hunger, loneliness, illness. We can share and treat, include and welcome. We can be there for one another for support and comfort. When the inevitable happens. When the unthinkable happens.

This is not heaven. There will be people who will choose to hurt others, people who get up in the morning with a plan to inflict pain and damage. Knowing this, we badly want to secure our own safety and that of our loved ones. We want the bad guys to wear one uniform, or one skin color, or one badge, so we can figure it out quickly and keep them away. Or kill them first.

We can’t scream, shout, or shoot our way to understanding, safety or security. When we’ve tried all of those – when we’ve written off group after group – defined them as a threat, we are right back where we started. We share the world we live in and there’s nothing left for us to do but try to figure out how to make it work for everyone.

I want for us to come together to speak out about how these incidents impact our lives, and consider what we do every day – each interaction, and how we reinforce safety, dignity trust… and hope. Are we really neighbors learning to live as friends?

If you want to talk more about these events with your co-workers and with others who want to work with us, then please come to In Good Company on July 21st. I am hosting a conversation again this month – as we do every month – and we will speak and listen and share and come to appreciate one another in a deeper way. Whether or not a conversation can heal, whether or not talking to one another will change the world, we owe it to ourselves to try. To enrich our lives by being careful stewards of this city, our community, our neighborhoods.