Socially valued role of neighbor

One of the major role domains described by Wolfensberger (SRV monograph, 3rd (rev) ed., p. 30) is that associated with one’s residence or domicile. One of the socially valued roles within this domain is that of good neighbor. What good things of life can this valued role potentially open the door to? Such things as a place to call home, belonging within a relatively small-scale social body, positive interactions with neighbors, friends, opportunities, positive expectations, respect, etc.

Social roles include certain responsibilities and behaviors (SRV monograph, p. 25). What behaviors and responsibilities are part of the valued role of good neighbor? Greeting the neighbors, not being noisy, keeping the yard clean, not being nosy, visiting the neighbors, inviting neighbors over, offering to help neighbors (e.g., pick something up at the store), etc.

In my experience, residential service programs can too often and too easily use the role language of neighbor about service recipients (e.g., in a group residence or staffed apartment), but without service recipients actually filling the valued role of good neighbor. One litmus test is, does the service recipient actually receive any of the ‘good things of life’ from the valued role of good neighbor? Another is, do they carry out any of the responsibilities of the good neighbor role? If so, how often? We can also consider the role communicators (e.g., setting, social juxtapositions and grouping, activity, language, appearance, etc.): do these individually and together communicate the role of good neighbor for a particular person?

Good neighbor is a valued role that can open the door to some of the good things of life, but it does not come automatically. Remember John McKnight’s warning: “One wonders how it is possible, in a small town of 5,000 people, to find a typical house and have five residents live there for ten years without any effective community relationships. Yet human service systems designed to provide what are called ‘community services’ often have managed to do just that” (John McKnight, ‘Redefining Community’ in The Careless Society: Community and its Counterfeits, NY: Basic Books, 1995, p. 116).

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