By Lydia Teh

My neighbour two doors away are renovating his house. He has raised the wall on his left to be on the same level as the right. This means that he won’t be able to see the goings-on next door on both sides.

People have become more private these days. We build high walls around ourselves and live in our enclosure away from neighbours’ prying eyes. We don’t know our neighbours’ names. We nod at each other and give curt smiles when our paths cross while going in and out of the house.

For those living in a rented property with a bunch of housemates not of your own choosing but the  landlord’s, it could well be that they don’t know the very people who share a kitchen or bathroom with them and aren’t bothered with their comings and goings.

A tragic incident which happened a few days ago in Kota Kinabalu illustrates how aloof we have become as a society. A 27-year old teacher died of a heart attack and was only found on the fourth day after her housemates investigated an unbearable stench coming from the room. The facts of the case are sketchy now, but the first questions that came to mind are: Was her absence not noticed by her school? Didn’t the housemates notice that she has vanished the past four days? Didn’t her family – who knows she has a heart problem – get in touch with her during that period and raise the alarm when she’s uncontactable? Sadly she is not the first nor would she be the last person whose unexpected demise goes unnoticed until days or maybe weeks later.

Who is my neighbour?

The dictionary definition of neighbours are the people living close to us i.e. those folks to our left and right and in apartment units, those above and below us too.

In Exo. 3:22, this is the same definition used: “But every woman shall ask of her neighbour, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing…”

But neighbours aren’t just those living near to us. A lawyer asked Jesus “And who is my neighbour?” which prompted Jesus to narrate the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

The priest, the Levite, the Samaritan all passed by the man injured by a robber. You could say all of them were “neighbours” because they came across him. But the one who truly deserved to be called a good neighbour was the one “who showed mercy on him.” This was despite their background where the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9).

Loving neighbours as ourselves

No matter what prejudices we may hold against someone who is not known to us, for instance people of a certain race, or a stranger who is passing by, we are to do good to them. More than that, we are to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). This doesn’t mean that we buy them an iPhone just because we’ve bought one ourselves. The whole idea is to look out for the interests of others, not just ourselves (Phil. 2:4).

Some examples of loving our neighbours (even if they are not lovable):

1. Don’t throw rubbish in front of your neighbour’s house.

2. Park your car so as not to obstruct the way of others.

3. Bring in your neighbour’s laundry when it rains.

4. Don’t play loud music especially late at night.

5. Build a sound-proof room for your kid if he’s into drumming.

6. Don’t swipe your housemates’ food or belongings without their permission.

7. Help an elderly person carry her stuff from the lift lobby to her apartment.

8. Like the good Samaritan, help someone who has met with an unfortunate incident eg snatch theft, accident or a punctured tyre. (Caution: Use your discretion. Conmen are aplenty these days. Some of these “accidents” are staged for crimes).

How to deal with “neigh-nemies”

What if we are good neighbours but they are inconsiderate and would not listen to reason?

If they are flouting the law, for instance they are building an illegal extension which is a fire hazard, you could report them to the authorities.

For other matters that the law can’t help you with, for instance, crying babies, barking dogs, cats that poo on your porch or dried leaves which blew from their compound into yours, listen to this:

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back” Luke 6:27-30.

Live with it. If you really can’t stand them, it’s time to move out.