Neighbourliness and the common good
Updated: May 25
In another of his occasional articles, Terry Martin reflects on ‘The practice of neighbourliness’
When we moved to Southampton in the summer of 1985, memorable because our youngest son Rob was born earlier that year, we quickly found how warm and welcoming our new elderly neighbours were. Barbara and Cyril, never having had children of their own, quickly adopted our three boys as if they were their own grandchildren, showing them love and affection.
At Barbara’s funeral in 2019, I was invited to contribute a brief eulogy. In it I alluded to the expression ‘neighbours from hell’ and suggested another expression, ‘neighbours from heaven’, and nominated both Barbara and Cyril for any prize that might be awarded in this new category. Even when our boys had grown up and left home, both Barbara and Cyril continued to be interested in them and remembered their birthdays and anniversaries. They were excellent neighbours and we have never ceased to be deeply grateful for our good fortune in living next door to them.
Although we might think of neighbours as those in close physical proximity, we might well ask: Who is my neighbour? We are of course, not the first to ask such a question. In Luke 10:25–37, Jesus responds to exactly this question from an expert in the law and proceeds to tell his most famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Its timeless core message is that our neighbours are anyone who we happen to meet for whom we have a moral obligation. This obligation is mutual, a sign of our common humanity and is not only a matter for individuals.
In the opening chapter to his book, Journey to the Common Good, entitled ‘Faith, anxiety, and the practice of neighbourliness’ (updated edition, Westminster John Knox Press, 2021), Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann, writes:
‘The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny — haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor. We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny.’ (p. 1)
In their report, Understanding Neighbourliness and Belonging (The Young Foundation, 2010) the Young Foundation states:
‘Neighbourliness and belonging are two different but closely interrelated concepts, with a strong common denominator being social interaction.’
Neighbourliness and belonging can only be practised and nurtured in social contexts and is key to reducing isolation and loneliness; it is a collective enterprise and an indication of active citizenship.
Terry Martin is a trustee of Southampton-based charity, Caraway.