Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I've been doing some thinking about the Post's coverage of a recent study on civic health in the District. Some of the indices bemuse me, such as the 72.4% of Washingtonians who have "some or a great deal of confidence in the media," because, I'm presuming, 72.4% of the District works in Media, or the 46% who "talk about politics frequently."  One in five Washingtonians have contacted a public official. Yup, that's kind of what we do here in Washington.

But some of the data, as the Post points out, is troubling. There's a lot of distrust -- only one in three people trust some or all of their neighbors, as well as a lot of reticence to ask for help, as only one in ten people regularly exchange favors with their neighbors.

I'm not going to turn this into a preachy post about how we should all get to know our neighbors, and actually talk to them, and if we did this, everything would be awesome. Nope. I understand high turnover in buildings and neighborhoods, the transitoriness of your twenties, the busyness of your thirties, and the ever-present crush of work that tends to overrule our lives here. Keeping up with all of your neighbors, only to have them move in three months, is exhausting and unfeasible. Should you know and trust at least some of them? Absolutely. But all of them? No, that's a superhuman effort. Instead, I'm more interested in the other part -- regularly exchanging favors with a neighbor. And not for the reason you might think.

Giving favors is great. You feel good about yourself, and you feel useful. But I think it's incredibly important to ask for favors. Apart from the political sort, it seems to me that Washington hates asking for favors. (And not even much of that's being done these days.) Asking for help, even for little things, is hard, because it implies that you aren't entirely in control of your life. It implies that you can't do it all yourself, that beneath your professional and polished veneer, you are human. And to be human means that we need to be vulnerable and ask for help sometimes. And that's not only okay, it's actually a good thing.

This spring, I was walking my dog when I discovered that I had locked myself out of the house. Husband wouldn't be home for at least another hour, maybe more. Okay, I thought, I'll just hang out here on the stoop. But then it started to rain. And it was getting kind of cold. So I called one of my neighbors that I sort of knew well, and I awkwardly explained what happened. "Come over, and bring the dog!" he said. So I did. And we drank a bottle of wine, and we laughed, and I got to know him even better, and now we're real friends, because instead of sitting outside in the rain, shivering, I owned up to what a dork I actually was and asked for a favor.

If not many people in Washington are exchanging favors, it means that not many people are asking for them. And that's too bad, because who knows what can grow if we could all started showing a little bit more of our human side.

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