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Do not ask, who is my neighbor? Ask, whose neighbor am I?

When we want to create a better life for ourselves, we often look at who is around us. We know that our environment counts and that having better friends and neighbors is good for us.

Think about the last time you looked for a new house or a new place to live. If you are like most people, you probably considered where it was and tried to avoid areas that were unkept or dangerous. Who would be your neighbor was likely at the forefront of your mind.

To others, we are the neighbor.

It makes sense, but it is only half of the equation. We have to remember that to others, we are the neighbor. We too are being judged. If we were to take a hard look at ourselves. What would we see, really?

Shifting our perspective means that we do not ask, “Who is my neighbor?” But ask instead, “Whose neighbor am I?”. When we shift the question, we shift the responsibilities in contains.

We all have a mental model of what a good neighbor is. We generally consider a good neighbor to be someone who is pleasant, respectful of others and the community, and someone who is helpful when the need arises. It seems that we place a lot of responsibilities on our neighbors. But what responsibilities do we place on ourselves? Are we as comfortable when the demands to be pleasant, respectful, and helpful are placed on us?

Accepting your neighbor-ness means reprioritizing your ego.

A suble re-ordering occurs when we change the question. Think about these two sentences. He is my neighbor. I am his neighbor. Being a neighbor has an implied undercurrent of subordination. When we ask, “Whose neighbor am I?” we are reprioritizing our ego. We are quietly placing ourselves second in importance. We are weakening our demands and accepting our responsibilities. We are making room for other people and accepting the fact that we have a role to play in how things work out.

Asking whose neighbor am I forces us to lift our heads up, to shift our field of view from ourselves to the world around us. It lets us see the wide variety of our interconnections in all of their forms. Being a neighbor is transcendent. Whose neighbor am I at home, at work, at play, in my family and social relationships? Who is close to me that I do not recognize and who is far away that I should be closer to?

We must participate in the world around us.

When we only think about who our neighbors are, we get to cheat. We can stay passive and judgmental. Unfortunately, that is usually comfortable to us. But when we think about who we are a neighbor to - in its fullest communal sense - we have to be active. While we might not find a disengaged neighbor particularly offensive, we would also not likely consider them to be a particularly good neighbor. To be a good neighbor, to others, to ourselves, and to the world, we have to participate in the world around us. That is often less comfortable to us.

The reason is simple. When we step back, think of others first, and interact with the world, we accept a certain level of risk. There is no guarantee that others will reciprocate with kindness, understanding, or appreciation. So, we make ourselves vulnerable to reactions that we do not control. But that is ok. When we recast ourselves, we are accepting the fact that the intent outweighs the outcome. We are accepting the fact that our imperfect world can be made more perfect one human step at a time.

For more insights see my books and blog at



YouTube channel, The Coping Expert, at

James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor. He is interested in cross-cultural and applied psychology, whether at work, as a part of a team, in our personal lives and in our relationships with others, or when we face adversity in life – whether from stress, addiction, or exposure to crisis.

Image credit is Unsplash

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