A lot of our lives are really about surface stuff. We chat away but generally they are minor conversations, skimming the surface and never getting too involved.
I work one day a week in retail,and see many people in that time. Over the course of the day I have a lot of conversations but they are usually focused on the weather. Often by the end of the day I am heartily sick of hearing about how cold, windy, wet, hot, humid etc it is. So I play along and mention the number of times I’ve turned the heater or cooler on or off. Smiling and agreeing when I’m advised not to go outside.
Just occasionally I have an in-depth discussion about current news, and sometimes there is an even more personal sharing — but rarely.
So what is it about our society that has us avoid participating in a more deeper way?
I recall during my childhood growing up in a rural farming community and the nearest neighbour was a few miles away — where everyone knew what was happening to the rest of the community. Hard not to when the telephone was a party-line and anyone could eavesdrop. But it was more than that — people cared about each other in a much more personal way than they do today. When incidents and events occurred, then mum would start baking and we would go visiting bearing gifts of food. Then there was always a shoulder to lean or cry on and there was no suggestion of weakness. Just a knowing, that if the situation was reversed you’d be on the receiving end of that neighbourly caring too.
When my children were small, we moved to a suburb of Melbourne and not long after a new house was built next door. I was on good terms with my other neighbour and those across the road, so I prepared to do what I’d grown up with. I took the three children and knocked on the door. When the lady answered the door, I introduced us all and welcomed her to the neighbourhood.
Now past experience would have her invite us in, or even make some joke about mess and just moving in but I got nothing. She didn’t want to know me — didn’t even open the door fully. So we left.
A few weeks later my four year old went missing so I ran to my friendly neighbours for help. One got in the car straight away and started searching the streets. My new next door neighbour was in his driveway washing his car and I called out to ask if he’d seen a little boy, but he didn’t even look at me when he said no.
I was crushed. My friendly neighbour found my boy, read him the riot act and brought him home.
But how sad it is that we can’t show we care without being thought of as nosy or prying.
Strangely or not, I don’t believe the suicide rate was anywhere near as high as it is today. So perhaps that had something to do with the sense of community we had back then. Yes, I believe there are pockets of that still surviving today, but very few.
If we could just show a little more caring when we talk to people, then perhaps we might notice if someone is not really coping. We may see that a person needs a shoulder to either lean or cry on, or just a good listening ear.
One of the highlights of my week is my coffee morning with the ‘girls’. We chat about whats happening in our lives, but we also share our disappointments and make ourselves available to be of help in any way whenever needed.
Our society has us all rushing to keep appointments, make deadlines but not make time for our neighbours. often we don’t even know their names.
Ross also goes to a mens coffee group weekly, but most people need to make appointments to meet for coffee and a chat.
So, if we as a community took a smidgen more time to ask a friend how they are, really mean it and be prepared to truly listen then just maybe we would notice a declining mental state. We might even start to slow the suicide rate down.
People power at its best.