Neighborly Neighbors

An excerpt from the fictional tales of Alien on Earth.

I’ve noticed people lament the fact that many of us don’t know our neighbors. They tend to imagine a romanticized past where neighbor helped neighbor and all was right with the world. That’s not my experience with neighbors though. For instance, my mother got into a tiff with one of our neighbors and it continued as a silent feud all the way up to the day we left, two decades later.

I recently read a few fictional works written over a century ago that portrayed contemporary life of the time. And based on those tiny samples, small-town life can be a virtual prison for some. It can be oppressive when everyone is expected to conform to a certain standard as defined by a tiny segment of a larger society, contorting themselves as necessary to fit in.

Of course many people do fit, and small-town life suits them just fine. But it’s the outliers I feel sorry for. Through no fault of their own, they’re different, and have the hardest time fitting into the allotted slots. Freedom after all, is the right to be different. A free society necessitates that those who are different can be so without hindrance.

Neighbors all up in our business tends to limit freedom by creating a subtle state of surveillance. Facebook is a funny one too, as many invite others to scrutinize their lives. But over time I’ve noticed the quick uptake of Facebook followed by a backlash against the constant monitoring — although like small towns, it suits some just right.

My point I suppose, is that conformity is fine for some and painful for others. A society that values freedom must not attempt to create a uniform citizenry and must provide outlets for differences. And as ugly-duckling type stories illustrate, oftentimes the different piece fits perfectly within a more suitable environment.

As an oddball myself, I have a higher stake in this position. I don’t believe in “normal” nor think such a thing should be defined. I certainly do have a set of standards I adhere to, but I’m in the wrong if I expect others to follow them. Respect for the fundamental right of others to exist and engage life with their own ways and beliefs is the very definition of freedom.

Freedom therefore, cannot exist without diversity. No choice can be made if there are no options. The battle for freedom is an ongoing war against those that would limit options — and freedom fighters are those struggling to expand options. We must recognize that beliefs and standards can coexist peacefully in parallel and we must strive to allow them to do so.

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