I’ve increasingly become convinced that whatever politics we adopt, they need to pass “The Good Neighbor Test”. Let me explain. Your neighbor is someone you see almost every day. Your houses are next to each other. You wave to each other going to work. What negatively affects your neighbor’s yard most likely negatively affects your yard, too. If you do something rotten to your neighbor, you will feel the repercussions of that act for as long as that person lives next to you—potentially forever.
Our well-being, in many ways, is intimately tied to the well-being of our neighbors, and their well-being is tied to ours. This causes us to be very careful about how we treat our neighbor and their property because the consequences of any negative actions on our part will indeed come back to haunt us. This suggests that the biblical injunction “Love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t merely a plea for us all to get along nicely. Rather, it is a very insightful piece of practical wisdom. We need to love our neighbor as ourselves because in one sense, we are our neighbors, and they are us. I think we would be a lot healthier as a nation if we viewed our politics like we view neighborhood matters
(This painting is by Allan Rohan Crite and is titled “In the Beginning”.)
We do things to each other in politics that we would never do to each other if we were neighbors. We live in a large nation, and that means that many times we make political decisions that affect people we will never ever see; that we will never have to talk to; that we will never have to look in the eye. It is really easy to make quick decisions about people when you will never have to see the affects your decisions have on their lives. I think this ability to disassociate ourselves from the people who are affected by our political decisions is one of the reasons we have such horrendous political tension right now.
We have stopped viewing each other has neighbors, and we have begun to view each other as strangers, as enemies, as opponents to defeat. This tendency is made even worse by the fact that we usually live in neighborhoods filled with people who are very like us in race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. So we increasingly tend not to see the people who are affected the most by our political decisions. But whether we like it or not, our happiness, economic well-being, health, and morals affect each other in inescapable ways.
So when we vote, we need to make sure our policies pass the Good Neighbor Test. We need to ask ourselves whether we know the people who are affected by the policies we are voting for. We also need to ask ourselves if we would treat our neighbor in the way we are treating the people whose lives will be affected most by our politics. If we think about politics this way, I think it might change a lot of things.
It might change where we decide to build pipelines. It might change how we treat undocumented immigrants. It might change how we treat people of different races and religions. It might change how we view education and medical care. It might change how we treat mothers, children, and older people. It may how we treat poor people and how we talk about wealthy people. While we may vote in a way that negatively affects people we have never met, we are much less likely to act rashly and much more likely to look for solutions when we are dealing with our neighbors.
Let us conduct our politics like everyone is our neighbor. And let us be good neighbors.