The French political philosopher, Alex de Tocqueville, theorized that the concept of the American township and its extension, the neighborhood, was the reason for the envied American “exceptionalism” of the 1800s and early 1900s. In Europe people resided around common characteristics and demarcations such as language or ethnicity. America in the 1800’s was not so much the case. People of different “ways, shapes and kinds” lived together in close geographic proximity, creating American townships and neighborhoods. While not all agreed with each other politically or socially, they were still neighbors. And when they were needed, they were there; the first line of defense against whatever common enemy they all faced.
It’s the loss of these bonded neighborhoods that is creating a social divide in America today. In the past, before World War II, our neighbors were our support. They were the doctors, the midwives and the handy- men. They were where we could go to get food when we needed it. It’s what got America through the Great Depression … and it’s what we need to get us through the dysfunction that has infected our country today.
What can we do to fix this?
The Solution: Acknowledging the good deed
At the base of any change and healing process are micro-level interactions. It’s easy to forget this, especially with our so-called leaders and their overarching platitudes espoused as being the cure-all for all that ails us. With a single wave of a magic wand all will be fixed as far as we can see. It’s easier to buy into this. The other way takes work and painstaking patience. To affect change one interaction at a time with one person at a time seems daunting to the point of pragmatic petrification. We can’t let this happen though. Medusa was a myth. We don’t turn to stone when we look at someone who walks by us. Even though our hearts may feel like they’re void of positive emotion and benevolence for those we don’t know … they’re not. It just takes “doing” rather than “not doing.” It takes recognizing that the other person and is probably little different from you – no matter how they may appear. They’re going through life hoping not to be anonymous, to be recognized – yet still too often retreating into their own comfort zone as a default.
The Pokemon G0 phenomenon of a few years ago brought people in contact with each in their neighborhoods. Generations content being fixed to their screens have found out their fixation can be a lot more fun if it’s integrated with the physical world and fellow players around them. At the heart of this connection is a phenomenon called physical synchrony. Walking toward the same locations, then trying to capture creatures in the same ways, means players move in similar ways at the same time. Research has demonstrated that synchronous movement can enhance trust between people. For a change – people aren’t scared of each other. They’re not looking for the worst in each other.
But what if we took it a step further and instead of settling for just “not looking for the worst” – we looked for the best. What if we engaged with our community and our neighborhoods focusing our attention on what people were doing that was out of the ordinary and just good for their fellow human beings.
“Leave everyone better“ is Melvin’s Neighborhood’s way of spreading goodwill … “of looking for the best”. We all encounter people in our daily routine that we just want to go over and give big hug to; those people who are especially nice at the restaurant you went to for lunch, those people who give up their seat on a bus for someone not as able. The list of what these “positive people” do is limited only by the size of their hearts. These are the people that should be the backbone of your community.
These are also the people Melvin’s Neighborhood strives to build a foundation around in its efforts to empower and revitalize the communities of America and beyond. This is where “Leaving everyone better” Appreciation Cards come in. Imagine if every time you ran across one of these people, instead of just giving them a compliment or an acknowledgement – you gave them physical proof of their goodness and positive vibes. Appreciation Cards are this proof. The size of business card, these cards tell them they are “wonderful” and appreciated.
Printed on each card is a QR Code so they can sign up as a Resident of the Melvin’s Neighborhood. These are exactly the people we want as “Community Appreciation” ambassadors. These new ambassadors can then pass on the card to someone else they deem worthy. And then … on and on and on. And if one of the recipients wishes to be ambitious and spread the goodwill even further, there will be additional cards available at any one of the Front Porches who are members of Melvin’s Neighborhood.
At the core of Melvin’s Neighborhood are its community norms and expectations of altruism and benevolence. This doesn’t doesn’t magically happen though. It takes the attitudes and actions of each of the Neighborhood’s Residents. Spreading appreciation for acts of goodwill through “Leaving everyone better” Appreciation Cards takes us a big step further in getting there.