Sunday, November 18, 2007

Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood?

As a child, I recall listening to Mr. Rogers sing, "Who are the people in your neighborhood, the people that you meet each day?" (forgive me for forgetting the song verbatim and for paraphrasing it).

That song is particularly relevant these days, as the growth of online communities and the constant relocation of people redefines the concept of neighborhoods.

With online communities, the people in your neighborhood could be scattered throughout the world, giving most people a stronger virtual neighborhood than the actual physical neighborhood in which they live.

That's why when they interview people who live right next door to a troubled family, a serial killer, or some other notorious character, the interviewee generally says something like: "He was very quiet..." "They pretty much kept to themselves..." "We didn't often see them..." Or similar statements indicating that they really didn't know the people in their neighborhood.

The same thing applies within our professional lives. Speaking for my extroverted self, I want to know the people in my professional neighborhood: I want to discover what motivates them, what frustrates them, their strengths, their weaknesses, their expectations, and--as the relationship permits--details of their personal lives.

I believe this information forms a comprehensive picture of the people in my neighborhood, so from that perspective, I guess my motives are selfish. But back in the day, when we didn't have online communities and we knew--I mean, really knew--our neighbors--the type of people they were mattered far more than what they did, or with whom they could connect us.

If we got along with our neighbors, we relied on them and they relied on us. In times of need, we helped each other. In times of plenty we shared--not everything, but just enough to cement those ties.

As for me, I'm getting to know the people in my neighborhood: Those with whom I am linked by bits and bytes, those with whom I share physical space, and those with whom I am connected professionally. I want them to know that they're important to me in the way that Mr. Rogers sang about.

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