Do you love your neighbor? She Magazine, November 1945

Sharing one more article from She magazine that I found appropriate, considering our current state of events. Please note: I’m not making a political statement! I just believe that we should love our fellow man, both next door and beyond. This is a really great read–I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Do You Love–Your Neighbor?
by Adele de Leeuw

Now when the air is full of talk of peace, and a better future world, and plans for a brotherhood of nations, it may seem like quibbling to go about asking, “Do you love your neighbor?” “What has that got to do with it?” more than one person might retort, indignantly. “I’m thinking of vast problems, of world concepts…”

But it has a great deal to do with it. The world is right next door.

“Do you love your neighbor?”

“Well, of course,” you can say, “I don’t know just what you mean by ‘love.’ That’s a strong word to use in this case… I can’t exactly love Mrs. Gresham; she is such a nuisance–always running in and breaking into my routine, and full of gossip that’s neither here nor there. And on the other side are the Marders; I don’t see how I can ‘love’ them, either. Mr. Marder is forever cutting down our privet and then pretending he thought it belonged to him; and Mrs. Marder always burns her trash when I’ve just hung out the laundry–though she could do it any other day and she knows I have to wash on Monday; and the Marder twins are little hellions, batting their balls into the garden, and ruining the chrysanthemums with their tennis rackets, and yelling their heads off in quarrels, right under my bedroom window when I take a nap…”

“I’ll admit it’s a sixty-four dollar question,” someone else says with an indulgent laugh. “I can’t answer Yes, and I can’t answer No. There are always qualifications. I have plenty of good neighbors–down the street. But right next door… maybe I’ve just been unlucky in this particular neighborhood, but really, the people on either side of me just about drive me wild. Grimes with his continual saxophone playing and Miss Henshaw with her sixteen cats…”

There’s generally something. Even out in the country. The Berlews are a quarter of a mile down the road, but they’re very unsocial. And the Crandalls won’t sell milk. And the Kreshnas overcharge for apples and won’t help with the haying.

Apartment living has its problems, too; plenty of them. The Worthingtons won’t speak, though they meet you in every day in the elevator; the Lansings have a crying baby, and are given to throwing dishes, apparently, every time they quarrel, which is daily. Mr. Hooven, upstairs, drops his shoes at two A.M., it seems, just for the fun of it, and the Jenkinses across the court have liver and bacon three times a week.

If only we could find a place where living conditions were idyllic, and neighbors were perfect! There must be some such place in the world, we think! We never quite get over hunting for it. We never quite get over expecting the world, and the people in it, to measure up to our fairy-tale conceptions formed long ago when we were children and inexperienced. You’d think that living with people, in the world-as-it-is, we would have found out that conditions like that don’t exist, and that humans are cast in frailer form. But we don’t. We keep right on looking, and expecting, and failing to find… and growing cross and disillusioned about the whole business. At the same time that we throw our eyes out of focus, stop up our ears, and lean back to dream of a perfect world where everything will be just as we want it, but on a gigantic scale! Everyone living in harmony, nations cuddling down side by side, economic and political differences all ironed out… and peace eternal stretching in a shining band to the furthest horizon and beyond!

It’s a sure way to make ourselves more unhappy than we would normally be. To plan for the world, while ignoring those who live right beside us, is nothing short of folly. For we can’t live in amity with other nations until we learn to live in amity with the queer, spiteful, eccentric, exasperating, ridiculous people to the right and left of us.

Our own family always seems superior in so many ways. Better looking, better mannered, better educated, better intentioned. Our own house looks better, our own garden. We’re critical of the way others cut their grass and their hair; of the way they speak and act, of the way they dress and the amusements they like and the friends they have. But somehow we think we can do that and still make a league of nations function. Why should we be any less critical of the Turkish than we are of the Jambowskas, whose ways are also strange? Why should we believe the Italians and the French will sit down in unity with us when we are irritated by the Juarezes’ gesticulations and the Pinchots’ morals?

We like to think how wonderful it will be when towns are rebuilt in Europe, and the starving children fed, and the war criminals all tried and punished. But what have we done about tearing down our own slum districts, and giving milk to undernourished youngsters in all the schools, and hunting out the rats who infest our own political life? It’s not nearly so romantic; it would mean a lot of work, and some unpleasantness… and besides, it’s our country. Wrong, maybe, but still our country. Now, abroad—

Distant pastures are always greener; schemes for a united world are much more roseate than schemes for a village get-together; working for a new world order is much more alluring than working for a new fire house or a juvenile delinquency court or a recreation hall in our own town.

“Do you love your neighbor?” “Well,” the answer comes, so often, “it depends on who the neighbors are.” Possibly… but until we can reconcile our likes to theirs, ignore their failings or help them overcome them, work for a common goal in our own small community where the world, in miniature, is set up through differing sects, races, beliefs and economic status, we’re going to have a hard time remaking the world nearer our heart’s desire. The blueprint of a shining palace is something to dream over; to dirty one’s hands laying bricks for a path through the back garden is something else again.

It has to be faced, though. Unless we are willing to respect our neighbor and try to love him, to work for our town and improve our state and revere our country, we might just as well give up any thought of achieving an endless era of peace. The world has shrunk to the size of our neighbor’s garden, and the faces of the world’s people are to be found in our street.

I don’t know why we don’t look at it another way for a while. To re-do the world is a terrific task, beyond the strength of most of us. But to take a pie to Mrs. Gold, and sit with the O’Briens’ sick child, and help Mr. Vacchi attend night school is within the reach of any of us. To settle country boundaries and work out a new monetary system and laws for the military control of aggressor nations might baffle even the most stouthearted, but any of us can see to it that the Higgins’ boy has a new artificial leg and help raise money for the church organ and give an evening a week to Girl Scout work. We ought to remember, when we grow discouraged, or wonder whether our mite will count, that it is by such humble steps that the road to Heaven is traveled.

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