My mom is a nosy neighbor. She can tell you a great deal about the families that live in our neighborhood. The crazy thing is that she’s never even had an in depth conversation with these people except the mandatory automatic “Hello” exchange that is ever present below the Mason-Dixon Line. She just watches them like a hawk through the upstairs window and at times she is spotted standing in her screen door just checking out the view. Because of what she sees she has formed some pretty in depth perceptions about the lives these people lead. She judges them based on what they do, how they speak to their family members, whether or not they have visitors in their home, the places they shop when they bring bags home from the store and whether or not they leave their house on Sunday mornings to go to church.
Am I in total support of my mother’s informal neighborhood watch program? No, but to a certain extent don’t we all engage in this behavior? We are a judgement oriented society and for many reasons we size those around us up all day long and make assumptions based on what we see. We might not feel great about stereotyping others but those schemas help us navigate a life chock full of new interactions. We don’t have the mental capacity to process every person we encounter in a meaningful way; instead we take a few cues and create our image of this individual. We do this with inanimate objects as well which is why we often don’t mistake a chair for a car.
When I walk outside to my car in the morning and leave my car when I arrive back home at night I often wonder what must my neighbors think about my life. What would your neighbors think about you if they watched you through the window? Would they get an accurate picture of who you are as a person?
My neighbors would probably tell you that I leave early, come home late, dress in a stylish manner ;), check my mail every other week or so, I work out at weird hours, almost every Monday night there are about 15 women who show up to my apartment, and on Sunday morning I leave and come back a couple hours later often with a red Kindle in my hand. They would probably know if they looked at my car that I attended college and am super proud of my alma maters and that I’m in sorority. If they paid really good attention they would be able to tell that I moved here with NC plates and now I have TN plates signaling I’m a newer resident of the state. I’m one of the few people who isn’t seen walking a dog and my across the hall neighbor would tell you that when I first meet a dog I’m a bit weary of them. They might also notice that I live alone and am single considering that I carry my own trash, clean out my own car, and carry my own groceries up the steps. Perhaps they notice that I eat out quite a bit and that I enjoy shopping. If they are super observant they might also tell you that I’m a bit forgetful as on multiple occassions I’ve gotten into my car, quickly realized I forgot something and dashed back up the steps to retrieve the item in question. If they looked hard on many Saturday mornings in the fall they’d know that I’m into Vanderbilt football as I sported my “Greeks Love the ‘Dores” stickers. I hope that they have taken notice that I smile and speak to everyone I run into while navigating the parking lot.
What would your neighbors say about you? Think about how you behave during that short walk from the car and back and whether or not the story one might create about you is one that would match your desired self-image. My neighbors could conjure up a wide variety of stories about who I am and what I value from these snippets of information. However, nothing that I think they see causes me any alarm. I can sleep at night knowing that I don’t represent myself in those short moments in a way that betrays my values.
Students, who live off-campus, really need to take this into account. If you live in a neighborhood with non- college student neighbors who are, in many cases, families with children that have resided in the area for a long period of time it would behoove you to reflect on what you and your roomies are doing in and/or around the house that might lead people to not want you to be their neighbors. Sure, you might be an intelligent person who is a campus leader and does community service and philantrophic work on the weekends but if your neighbor across the street only sees you raging on the front porch or creating a massive amount of noise as you and your bros frat it out in the ‘burbs then just imagine what that person is going to say about you when asked about your character. The words “community” and “service” will not be used in the same sentence so much as the words “community” and “nuisance” will take their place.
Don’t get all creeped out thinking about your neighbor leering at you but try to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what you must look like from their perspective. If what you imagine is bothersome to you then I would suggest you work on improving how you are presenting yourself in those brief moments. Every moment counts.