If you want to ruin a potentially meaningful relationship, pretend that any time is a great time to tell a neighbor about your values. Then notice how it affects their motivation to get to know you.
I moved here and instantly marveled at my neighbor’s veggie garden. I blurted that she was saving the planet and inspiring others by growing her food without pesticides. It had an effect…
She was reminded of me every time she shopped. Every time she ate out. Every time she saw certain ads. Every time certain things were up for voting.
And because I was a new neighbor, those thoughts were about how different we are. Not because we’re actually all that different, but because, in the season best for fostering a healthy little seed of a friendship, I poured a ‘should’ on it. She ‘should’ feel virtuous for gardening…
Soil that is too rich in nutrients ‘burns’ germinating seeds. Just so, reasoning that is too rich – more rich than necessary – can burn a friendship that already has all it needs to thrive.
Foster Friendship First
You see: to my neighbor, the word ‘organic’ just means ‘expensive’. She loves to watch things grow. She likes to experiment and test her knowledge over time as to what will grow well, and what she can do about that. She grows for fun, and to stretch her money, and although she’d never tell a stranger this, it’s become a healing, near-spiritual practice.
Whether or not intended to flatter or support her, my enthusiasm seemed abstract – even fictional – compared to hers. Telling her she was doing ‘the right thing’… I’d lost sight of her as a creative, resourceful, and whole person. I took the connection for granted, and came off as someone more focused on affecting people than showing affection.
Thankfully, that’s not what actually happened. Forgive me for telling the scary version, but we have reasoned together that that would have happened if I’d made a different choice all those years ago…
I actually did manage to keep my zealous/optimistic/personal reasoning to myself and just get my hands dirty – and I’m so glad I did! Instead, I focused on what she was growing, what she loves about gardening, and asking whether there were ways I could help and perhaps indirectly learn to garden, too.
Even if the world would be better if more people knew their neighbors and/or gardened… So what? I’m the only ‘more people’ I’m in charge of.
Enrichment Over Time
I learned enough from her to start a plot of my own in a spot near the sidewalk that would introduce me to more neighbors, still. But more importantly, I learned to embody the sheer curiosity and delight that sustain my dear neighbor and me, regardless of our gardens’ effect on the planet. And I gained an invaluable friend.
We have been close for years, now. One of the many precious aspects of our friendship is that we can disagree without it threatening the relationship; we value and seek out one another’s perspectives on decisions large and small, and we support each other through all kinds of seasons.
Friendship is a rewarding enough reason to be a good friend.
And if you actually do it, you might agree that gardening is enough reason to garden, too.
Who’s Near You?
Please share stories this brought up for you, below!
If you can’t think of one, perhaps you’ll find yourself taking your eyes off the screen and taking a quick walk right now to jog your memory.
Perhaps you’ll see a neighbor doing something you admire. In a perfect world, what obstacle(s) would you be able to transcend so you can just get to know your neighbor and their true motivation?