The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
John and I returned home from vacation to discover that one of our neighbors was having a party — a boisterous one at that.
But it was only 9 p.m., and since I knew them to be nice people, and this was apparently a special occasion, I wasn’t too concerned. After all, it was in their backyard, and surely the karaoke would lose its novelty and they’d stop, and the lighting would not be needed after the evening became too cool for using their pool, and at some point the DJ would go home and take the loudspeakers with him.
Then, at 11 p.m., the party got louder. As we went to bed we turned on fans for white noise and put in earplugs. The party became even louder, so around midnight we moved from our front-of-house upstairs bedroom to the back-of-house ground floor family room sofa. At 1 a.m. we carried a mattress from our guest bedroom to the basement. But none of that helped.
I’m not sure exactly what time it all ended, but sometime around 3:30 a.m. I did manage to drift off to sleep. When I woke up a few hours later I felt sleepy and grumpy. Later that day I saw them cleaning up their yard, and, yes, I admit it, I felt resentful.
I won’t dwell further on this situation and those individuals — I doubt that it’s unique. More importantly, within this anecdote some larger concepts about being neighbors became apparent. It seems to me that being good neighbors in the literal sense of house-to-house proximity is equivalent to being good neighbors on a larger, even planetary scale, as the Baha’i teachings recommend:
If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.
At the local level, we might begin by considering the Golden Rule. Applying it to the neighborhood, we want everyone to feel safe in their home and amiable with those who live nearby. We might wish for more, but this is a reasonable starting point.
My own neighborhood borders on others. At some point we join a main road, and we can show respect to others in our town by such simple acts as keeping our streets clean and obeying traffic signs. Few people would argue with this.
As we enlarge our vision, our town is near other towns. Do we consider how our local zoning laws might affect them? Do we maintain roads that coordinate with theirs? Do we keep air and water clean not only for ourselves but also for neighbors and visitors? Are we welcoming in our signage and amenities?
This idea keeps growing, as town and cities become regions and states. At a policy level, is everyone who is affected by decisions represented at the table? Do we seek quality of life and security for all?
These sorts of questions take us to the world as a whole. From environmental practices to fiscal policies, we are all neighbors. This has always been the case, but in these days of worldwide communications and travel, every day brings new insights and increased urgency.
The relationship itself calls for reciprocity and balance. I might want my neighbors to be good to me, but just as importantly I can extend my friendship and well-wishes to them. If they harm me in some way, I need to forgive them, as I would hope they would do if I were the one who had caused the harm. This attitude, taken to a higher level, fosters tolerance and even peace.
To be good neighbors means to negotiate rather than fight; to reduce and recycle rather than pollute; to share information rather than hoard it; to trust rather than distrust. I am not so naive as to think this can be done immediately, but I do think this is the vision we need to cultivate.
Within his book of laws, Baha’u’llah tells us not to prefer one’s self to one’s neighbor; not to contend with one’s neighbor; and not to anger one’s neighbor. Elsewhere he said: “… be ye of them that act equitably towards their neighbours.”
These few simple yet profound ideas, applied locally and then extended globally, would contribute to the transformation of our world — and then we’d all sleep more peacefully.