Connection is more complex than it seems
The Mail is once again teaming with Mindful Margaret River to share guidance and support from local members of the Mindful Margaret River alliance.
My wife and I moved to live in Burnside in early 2018.
We didn’t know many people in the Margaret River area and we wondered if we’d feel isolated living in the middle of a forest.
All the houses in the area are down long driveways and can only be glimpsed from the road.
It seemed rude to intrude on people’s privacy. But I did anyway!
Extracting myself from between half unpacked boxes I wandered along the road to the first driveway, walked up to the front door and knocked.
I was anxious because I had no idea if these people – whoever they were – wanted to meet the new arrivals.
Perhaps they treasured their isolation?
Perhaps my approach would feel intrusive to them?
Perhaps I’m not really a nice enough or interesting enough person for them to want to talk to me?
Anyway, why would they trust a stranger who just bowls up and knocks on their door?
On my first attempt, a surprised face appeared behind the fly screen door.
“Hello” I said “I’m Martin and my wife and I have just moved in across the road. I wanted to introduce myself.”
I was welcomed with a beaming smile “That’s nice” she said.
“Vincent, come and meet the new neighbour.” That was three years ago and we now have an affectionate and neighbourly friendship.
We don’t live in each other’s laps but both families find comfort from having the other just across the road and ready to help each other out of the inevitable fixes that we get into from time to time.
Over the next few months following our moving in, my wife and I, or just me alone, would knock on strangers’ doors on our afternoon walks.
Gradually we got to know the people who lived in the area.
Some have become really good friends, others stop to chat if we meet on the street, but we don’t see them otherwise except at the annual end of year street party or at a community bushfire-ready gathering.
We lived in a suburb in the north of Perth for 8 years and when we left we had nothing like the sense of community that we have now after living here for only three years.
Now we say to our – relatively few – old friends in the city “We’re so lucky to have a great community in Burnside”.
But what is ‘community’?
Maybe it is really just a network of relationships, held together by conversations, where neighbours talk and listen with each other and where they hold each other in mind and help each other from time to time.
You’d wonder then why every suburb isn’t a ‘great community’. But talking and listening are not easy, even though we do it every day.
For a start, there is an unspoken understanding that every conversation has a purpose, but we would not normally start off by saying “The purpose of this conversation is…etc”.
We negotiate the purpose without directly talking about it.
And that’s more complicated than we normally give thought to.
Secondly, there’s an assumption that both parties will talk about something relevant to each of them but also listen attentively to what the other party talks about.
After all, for a conversation to be satisfying to both parties the both need to feel engaged with and heard.
We also assume that we share the talking time, not necessarily equally, but in a way that feels fair and respectful.
But we’d rarely say “OK, you’ve talked enough for now, it’s my turn to have some air time.”
Again, really important aspects of the conversation are negotiated without speaking directly about them. That’s complicated too!
When I think about the hidden subtleties of everyday conversation, I wonder how we manage to socialize at all.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons it can feel so hard to knock on the door of someone in our neighbourhood and say “Hi, we haven’t met yet so I just popped in to say hello.”
But for me, taking the risk has brought lovely rewards.
Martin Ringer is entering his fourth year as a Margaret River resident. He and his wife were attracted to the area in part because of the thriving arts community. Martin is a stone carver, author and retired organizational consultant, adventure therapist and socio-analyst.
Mindful Margaret River is an alliance of mental wellbeing professionals, government agencies, community members and the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to promote health and wellbeing in the Shire.
First published by the Augusta Margaret River Mail 27 May 2021