I was interviewed ‘live’ for 25 minutes on Friday! This is an unedited recording of the unscripted and immediately broadcast show, including the other guest after me starting at minute 27.
I post this because it has a practical neighborliness exercise 4/5 of the way through… and introduces some other resources you might LOVE and mindsets you might thrive by. I wish I’d talked more about how wonderful & rewarding neighboring has been!! I loved her questions –even the ones I didn’t let her finish, or needed her to repeat 🙂
Skim the text or listen to the first half (25 minutes) of the show. Whatever you do…
I plan to handle each topic in shorter, more in-depth blog posts in future.
I’m so grateful for Kris’ focused work, follow-through, and attention to detail.
(I guess she prefers to advertise it as ‘manifesting’
–a supposedly passive word I’m familiar with from my cancer research days.)
Kris Steinnes: Welcome to Voices of Women!
We’re going to talk about how you can create relationships with your neighbors with Briana Barrett-Squirrel. Briana combines combines her backgrounds in science, research, and holistic education with spiritual resiliency. And through being a Neighbor On Purpose, she fosters real, integrated community, step by step, and on a doable scale: on the scale of a child’s world which means: we can all do it.
Since 2008, Squirrel has committed herself to knowing & loving the 200 people who wake up within 100 yards of her pillow every day, helping neighbors to dream together… and articulate what “local,” “sustainable,” “life-long learning” and “community” might mean for everyone. And
she’s giving a workshop at
Women of Wisdom,
on Feb 13th, on
the Lost Art of Neighboring.
So you wanna check that out at thewowconference.org website, and also, you can check out her website at neighborsonpurpose.com.
So, welcome to the show, Briana.
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Thanks, Kris. I’m so glad to be here. And so glad to be at the conference. It’s such a unique place. You know, I’ve been to so many conferences where it’s uni-directional communication. I’m super excited to be at THIS conference. And on the show.
Kris Steinnes: That’s great. Well, first I want to know:
What drew you to this whole concept
of connecting with your neighbors?
I know, we’ve become so isolated.
I know the people that ___ around my house.
You walk down the street, and
I don’t even see people,
because they’re inside their homes.
Living in Seattle,
we sort of don’t live outside as much,
out on our porches and things. But
what drew you to this work?
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: I used to not know any of my neighbors, actually, myself, and it was a kind of response to feeling ‘temporary.’ I’m not even from here. I used to live on the East coast, but before that in the Netherlands, and before that in Canada, for a decade each. So, I never really knew whether I planned on being anywhere for very long, either. And I think that stops a lot of people from investing in relationships around them. Or potential relationships—because if it’s based on neighborhood, it might not be based on having anything else in common. And that’s kind of scary, to make that investment.
But what drew me to it, was exactly the level of… I wouldn’t call it ‘success’ but of… joy that I found in connecting with random strangers, and asking myself whether it’s really random. You know: believing that synchronicity orchestrates a lot for us, I might have only been bumping into people that I could love easily, and telling myself ‘oh, look at me, I’m spiritual: I love everybody I meet!’ But… how could I really test whether I really was able to love anyone, except if I wasn’t selecting that group?
Of course, neighbors are selected based on their income, and different— you know: taste for their neighborhood, probably, and there’s a lot of privilege involved in the invisible selection factors. But being able to turn to the house next door and have, personally, judgments on the size of the house and the extraordinariness of someone’s lifestyle… it really confronted me with the fact that I don’t, actually, (easily) live judgment-free. And I should try and see how I could… love my neighbors.
Kris Steinnes: Mhm, well, and I read in your introduction: you know 200 people that surround you within 100 yards. That’s amazing! How did you set out to do that?
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: I don’t actually KNOW 200. I know that there ARE 200 and I probably don’t bump into all of them, but that’s my estimate of how many people live around ANY ONE Seattleite. I probably know 50, which is still a large number. That’s the number of neighbors which were at my wedding (which was a block party) …what was your question again?
Kris Steinnes: Oh, just:
How did you set out to
make those connections?
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Well, I had, in a spiritual meditation once, years before I moved to this particular neighborhood, I had envisioned: ‘what if the world were already enlightened—what would we still be doing?’ You know: ‘What would the life be like that we would lead together? We would still get sick, we would still fall and get up again, we would still do life together… What would our conversations be about?’ and I realized: I would be able to turn to my neighbor and ask them for right relationship.
And so, really, my outreach to neighbors, and my putting my heart and my body out there near my home (rather than in places where I know I’ll get along well with people based on shared interests or other things) has been grounded in this method that I’m actually going to introduce people to in my workshop. It is more complex than just calling it 5 questions, and yet it’s very simple when you think about ‘how do you foster right relationship?’
So: it’s asking for permission to have a relationship, without putting all of your hopes and dreams for a great neighborhood, and the perfect world, into one person.
Basically, my putting myself out there in my neighborhood is my way of getting to a place where it’s comfortable for people to say yes to having that particular conversation from where I get really interested in the relationship. When I know not only that they know the way that I would like to be treated, but I know the way that that neighbor would like to be treated.
Kris Steinnes: Mhm, yeah. And you also mentioned block parties. We have these block parties. That’s when we get to meet the people on our block. We get to know the people that come. But it’s once a year, and then we kind of forget about that.
It takes a lot of effort commitment:
“I’m going to get to know these people,
and allow them to see me.”
–what holds people back from doing that?
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Oh, there are so many things. I can say, just walking up to someone’s door, I can sense –it’s as if there are layers, wrapped around each home. The first layer is like: “Why am I even doing this? Why am I walking up to their door? Like: is this really important to me?” so it’s my own, my own barrier, right? And even if I have reasoned through all of the, like, well: ‘in my perfect world, I do have relationships with neighbors, I buy local, I can borrow something instead of hopping in a car to drive and pollute to get it… you know: I can share things…’ all of those reasons that you might have TO do something, don’t make you necessarily do it.
What, on my way, even to someone’s door, that I’m determined to meet, or find out if they’re home, I can experience the layer that is like: ‘do they even have people come to this door, or do they use their back door?’ You know. That insecurity as to whether you’re even approaching them from the right angle. The layer that is like ‘do they have a dog? Is it going to bark? Am I going to alarm everyone in their house?’ The layer behind that, another step closer, is (there are so many layers) “Am I bothering them at the wrong time of day?” “Do they want neighborhood? Do they want neighbors in their life?” There are so many reasons that nobody would ever, probably, tell you that they’re not into it.
And I’ve managed to pay attention to those layers as I step through them, and hold them all in mind as questions. So when I arrive at the door, if someone does open, I don’t, then, push through and assume that they DO want all the things I do, I ask them genuinely: “Hi, I’m your neighbor from ___” and I’ll point physically so they can know: I’m not very far. I’m not saying I’m a neighbor when really I’m like, on the other side of what’s called a neighborhood but is really a giant area with the same name but it’s not just their street.
I’ll point, I’ll ask them “How long have you lived here and are you interested in ___” I’ll just ask them all the questions that occurred to me on the way up to the steps. That takes a lot of practice and vulnerability—willingness to be vulnerable; willingness to be rejected. I think that stops a lot of us from dating… from any relationships at all!
Kris Steinnes: Yeah, yeah, that fear of being rejected, and yeah: how is someone gonna take it? And even when the doorbell rings and you’re not expecting someone, you know, I kinda: I’ll look through the peephole going, “Okay, who is this?” You know? I don’t… and there’s some security in that. [Briana: Mhm!] and then we even have this sort of suspicion, of like: who is this coming to my door? Who is this? And we’re so—we’re so on guard.
I remember one time, walking to my car and I’m in a hurry. I was in a rush and I wasn’t thinking and a guy walked across the street, straight at me, at an angle. And I kinda froze, like, it put a little fear in me. And he was just a new neighbor, inviting people to his house for a potluck to get to know the neighbors. but it so threw me, because I did not expect it. Especially a man walking up towards a woman very quickly, directly, very direct, you know, crossing the street right towards you, it… going through it I had to apologize to him for my reaction…
Well, this is Kris Steinnes, you’re listening to Voices of Women, and we’ll come right back. We’re going to take a break and talk more with Briana Barrett-Squirrel.
[break at minute 15]
Kris Steinnes: Welcome back to voices of Women. I’m talking with Briana Barrett-Squirrel. So Briana, I think I noticed somewhere,
is Squirrel your nickname?
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: No, it’s my husband’s last name, he’s really… he’s a Squirrel.
Kris Steinnes: Wow! Okay.
[laughter from both]
Kris Steinnes: We’re talking about building these relationships with our neighbors and getting to know them; walking up to a door and, and, and introducing ourselves. This is so unique in our culture now. And I’m curious: Have you found—’cause you’ve lived in Canada, you’ve lived in the Netherlands—
have you found any difference
here in the U.S.
than from other countries?
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Well, I mean, I’ve heard that in Italy, the sense of community and walkability is very high because people spend their time after dinner walking about. And such cultural traditions would be wonderful to be able to instill in America, but I just don’t think that that’s a goal that’s realistic for an individual.
I’ve set myself up more for neighborliness as a spiritual practice – and neighboring, which is a word that, I think, derives, from the Dutch ‘buurten’. The ‘buurt’ is the neighborhood. And ‘buurten’ is making neighborhood into a verb. So I guess the translation would be neighboring, which is just any time near your house, bumping into neighbors, or actually visiting inside, or, I guess, having them over, if they’re neighbors, I guess that counts.
For me, neighboring was definitely inspired by my homesickness for some aspects of Dutch culture.
The Dutch have this tradition on birthdays. They don’t even say ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone on their birthday. They say ‘Congratulations!’ And as a child there, I would be visiting people, because that’s the tradition; you just show up at their doorstep for coffee and pastry. And they are the servant that day. They serve everyone they know, and it’s their pleasure because everyone that you know (this was before Facebook—you know—)if you knew someone well enough to know that it’s their birthday, you would come to their house, and you would go around, first shaking their hand, then the family’s hands, and then everyone who is there. And often times there were just neighbors who weren’t necessarily close friends that they had tons in common with, but neighbors would come. But…
the tradition of being of service to the people who you have in your life threw me, because in Canada I had grown up where your birthday was a day people surprised you (or failed to, I guess) and gave you gifts and ‘spoiled’ you.
But I like the idea of being congratulated. And I never found out—no one can tell you why they congratulate you on your birthday in Holland—but I thought to myself: it might be on surviving… yourself… and it might be also be on thriving in community and gathering this juicy crowd of people!
It’s like the Women of Wisdom conference, but in everyone’s living room, all the time! And every week, you know someone whose birthday it is and there’s overlap between these circles, so there are conversations that are just, kind of ongoing, depending on who stands up and leaves, because there’s never enough chairs and that defines where you end up sitting. You could continue that conversation with even the same person, or with someone who knows them well, and pass along greetings, etc.
So, very much inspired by that tradition, I would love to see my neighborhood become one where visiting becomes not something that I do one-on-one so much anymore, but where, 1-on-3, 1-on-5, people start having each other over, [Kris: Mhm.] —and it’s a normal thing to do frequently.
Kris Steinnes: Yeah. I know when I grew up (I grew up in Seattle) we were connected by the children in the neighborhood. Because the kids go visit other people’s homes, so then the parents got to know each other, because they’ve got to know about these kids that you’re playing with, and so there was a greater sense of community, and neighbors, back then, because we knew everybody on our block. You know: you knew the kids, you knew the parents, and that fostered that. and
you talked about going &
When I grew up—you were cooking something and you didn’t have enough sugar—you went to your neighbor, and got a cup of sugar. And you had to return that cup of sugar. And
we do not do that now,
We run down to the store!
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Yeah, there’s a pride and an independence that’s a trademark of North-American attitude, which is a tragic response, I think, to the awareness that we DO depend on each other. I think: the more we realize that we depend on each other, the more self-conscious we can become about it, and one response to that self-consciousness is the ILLUSION of independence. The illusion that paying someone for something, or paying a gas company for the ability to fly to the store and back, basically, is… is somehow more of an accomplishment than the ability to ask a neighbor and be trusted that the relationship is resilient to that debt. [Kris: Mhm.] That social debt. I feel pretty strongly –and my husband has coined this term for me – that
community is based on need. And so, the ability to admit that we HAVE needs, and that we need each other, is actually a gift.
When people are willing to be that way, it makes us a gift, because we’re vulnerable. [Kris: Yeah.]
I’m using that word often, as a positive word. Because the ability to be vulnerable is the ability to give someone else the opportunity to shine and to say “Wow, you too? Me too!” [Kris: Yeah.] and it brings us back to what we have—ALL that we have on common.
Kris Steinnes: Yeah, that’s true. And I was thinking, yeah, we feel vulnerable. We need something. And to go to a neighbor, who don’t know us very well, probably, until you build that relationship… it’s showing. Like there’s just this thought of “that’s making me look weak.” “Oh, I don’t have everything. I don’t have things that make me sustainable.”
“I have to go ask for help.”
Instead of looking at it
in this other way
that you’re binging about:
as a way of connecting.
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: An opportunity
Kris Steinnes: And an opportunity!
Because people love to give back.
When you ask them.
if someone asked me…
it makes you feel good!
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Yeah, and if someone is really determined to build relationships in their neighborhood, they might actually go: “oh I need to just go pretend I need to borrow a cup of sugar at all my neighbors’ houses’ and then suddenly it’s feigned and it’s not a gift, right? So: actually having a need, actually having it arise naturally, is this beautiful, synchronistic opportunity that—yeah, it’s possible that you might knock on a neighbor’s door and they might not be home and you’ll have to knock on another door, and another, to find that cup of sugar, and so, yeah, it might save you time to go to the store, it might save you embarrassment or frustration…[Kris: yeah, yeah.] but most of all, it’s saving you the frustratin[g awareness] that you don’t already have the neighborhood you didn’t take the time to build***. [laughs] It’s confrontational to find that out.
Kris Steinnes: I just have this thought that
it could be a very fun test to do,
to just go to your neighbors and say:
“You know, I was just baking this cake, and I… it’s…
I’ve got to have it done by a certain time and I wonder if I could borrow a cup of sugar?” Just… just to see people’s reaction, because, I think people would … well… I don’t know. At my age, I can say when we grew up, people did that, but people don’t do that anymore. So it’d be interesting to see the reaction, and a chance to get to know some of your neighbors. It could be an interesting test. Not that it’s the right thing/way to do it, but 🙂
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: No, I think it’s… you’re guaranteed that people will respond positively. They will either tell you that they wish they had sugar, or …give you sugar. Pretty much, that’s my experience. [Kris: Yeah.] People are very eager to share, and they’re eager to be connected with. But your test would be whether you would be willing to go to the neighbors. And I think the test would fail if it were a fake [Kris: yeah] but if you were actually resolved to find a need once a week that you could actually meet through neighbors instead of through driving, and dared yourself to ask at least one neighbor for help, that would be a cultivation of that resiliency inside ourselves, of the ability to be ‘rejected’ quoteunquote (which is NOT personal, actually) the ability to take that time, and the prioritizing of these relationships.
Kris Steinnes: Yeah. Well, I have a question, because
the full title of your workshop is
“Women’s Work” – the Lost Art of Neighboring.
And so my question is:
why do you consider it women’s work?
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: No, I don’t. I actually put that in quotation marks, and later I thought maybe I should have put a question mark, because it USED TO BE [Kris: yeah] —what is now being called women’s work, which was work that only the women could do because the men were the bread-winners, and the women were the social glue.
And you know: the art of neighboring has, in a way, been lost because women’s emancipation has done so much good, but also, no one has valued enough what was being done to step in and say: “we need to pay people to do this” or “we need to still be doing this! Let’s step up to the plate and DO this!” [Kris: yeah] It’s as if it was invisible. [Kris: Yeah, you’re right.] and
‘Shadow work’ is what it’s also called.
Kris Steinnes: Well, and women are, we’re, more women are at work now. Though a lot of women work at home, too, now, but you’re right: people…
our mothers were at home.
They were homemakers
and taking care of the kids and the house and so they were at home, so they did visit with their neighbors.
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: —and they were networkers! [Kris: Yeah.] I’ll interject that they were networkers: a lot of it was business-oriented. A lot of the neighbors were also the clients or the customers of the husband’s business or employer’s business. And so having neighbors or other people over for dinner was actually a business meeting, also, often times. [Kris: Mhm.] and it was all more local because it wasn’t all… you know… so thin-spread.
Kris Steinnes: And one thing I’m curious about is…
in order to do this
& ‘put yourself out there’
is like: showing leadership.
Like, if you wanna start something in your block, you know…
and sometimes there’s just this thought: I would like other people to stick their neck out; other people to organize it. Like: ‘great idea, but… how about somebody else doing it.’
So what do you say? How can we cultivate that, that sense of, of ownership that everyone—
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: This is my favorite question, and I’ve loved your questions, but this is a beautiful question.
I consider leadership, and there are papers about this, so I’ll quote –ehm, name the title of one, it’s called Making Common Sense, and the sub-title is Leadership as Meaning-Making in a Community of Practice. And the paper, the small book that it is, is just an explanation of that title, because it’s so succinct.
But what I will say, practically, in my neighborhood, I have been asked to “Oh, if you wanna get together neighbors, you should organize a disaster prep party.” Or “if you wanna organize neighbors, you should throw a block party.” Well, I wrote a manual on how to throw a block party in such a way, that you are not the leader. Because
it’s very important to not become a leader.
That is the opposite of community fostering.
If you would like neighbors to become the citizens
we would all like to be surrounded by;
if you would like neighbors to become
the friends you would like to have,
you can’t be the initiator of everything.
You might actually be the initiator, in a sense, but I have resolved to be a joiner.
So that’s why.
What I do with neighbors, is I ask them what they would like neighborhood to be. And if they have an idea that resonates with me, which is almost always the case, I will be able to give them the credit for having come up with it, because I only asked them for their wishes and dreams. And then I can ask them whether they would like any support!
So THEY are the point-person, and I am their support person. And, of course, because I’m meeting so many more neighbors, I can be an invitation infrastructure. But I can honestly say to a neighbor when I’m talking to them about this: “There’s a neighbor who wants to do ___non-religious caroling___, would you like to come? Would you like to practice? Would you like to just be at the practice if you don’t sing?” And I can honestly say it’s not MY thing.
Kris Steinnes: Yeah, it’s about co-leading!
Briana, we’re running out of time.
Briana Barrett-Squirrel: Okay, thanks for having me!
Kris Steinnes: So everyone, check out her workshop (the Lost Art of Neighboring, Sat, Feb 13th) at theWOWconference.org