Thinking about what it takes for a person to be “neighbourly” – to be useful and friendly to the people who live around them. One thing that matters is being available.
Sure, there are lots of more impressive qualities, like generosity, empathy, trustedness. I’m more interested in a very basic and often overlooked quality – availability. To care for people, and to be kind to your neighbours, you have to be available. You have to be there. You’re no use if you’re absent, or distracted, or saying “not now”.
Woody Allen and Picasso agree on this
Availability applies in a similar way in all parts of life. Like the Woody Allen quote “80% of success is showing up” or Picasso “inspiration will come but it must find you working”, or “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair”.
And similar to a current popular theory in brand-marketing that emphases “mental-availability” above all else: “Make your brand easier to access in consumer memory in more buying situations and for more consumers.” (Byron Sharp).
2 ways to be more available (or less unavailable)
And there’s some everyday things we can all do to be more available, or rather “be less unavailable”. Here are two, and I know they make me seem old-fashioned.
Sit “out the front”. When you have time when you can sit somewhere, put yourself somewhere visible. On your porch… or a cushion outside your front door. You might see someone; you might say a casual “hi” that a year later evolves into them or you helping each other. I noticed this last week. Everyone at home because of Covid-19. The woman who lives right opposite, Nicky, sat outside on her front step every day with her kids, reading and soaking up the sunny weather. So I ended up having 3-4 casual chats... she saw me go out for a run, and come back puffed, 20 minutes later.. I asked if she wanted me to get her anything from the shop. All good; nothing dramatic, but it all up. Sit out front.
Head up (occasionally at least). Eye contact and heads-up. If you default to looking down at your phone, you’re missing seeing people around you, and being seen by them. Seeing each other is vital. The isiZulu greeting “Sawobona” means “I see you”, – as John Powell says, in his writing about the “wider we”, it’s in this seeing and acknowledging that we understand the full humanity and equal-value of another person. So head-up, or you’ll miss stuff. You won’t even know what you’re missing. Feel some FOMO-IRL.
More on this to come:
I’m working on a proposition for Instagram (for the Wellbeing team there, based in Silicon Valley) about care-and-availability. A way for people to signal their availability to one another. I’ll report more on this when we’ve got further along with it.