Springfield, MO

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Letter to the Editor: Develop relationships instead of building fences

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Dear editor,

I am writing regarding the poorly headlined “Good fences make good neighbors” story in the May 1-7, 2023, issue of the SBJ. The phrase is normally used to justify building a fence and keeping neighbors at arm’s length. But that was not the author’s recommendation.

In Robert Frost’s 1914 poem, “Mending Wall,” the writer describes two neighbors working together to repair a fallen stone fence separating their properties. The neighbor’s repeated response is, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

But the author intends the statement to be an indictment against our culture’s collective failure to be hospitable and neighborly, where we only share a commitment to not sharing anything.

Frost’s poem is a metaphor for the walls we build that keep people out and keep people apart. Walls that keep us from being hospitable.

Social media has exacerbated the problem but isn’t the root cause. The real problem lies with us and our failure to be good neighbors. Instead of developing relationships, we build a fence so we never have to see the neighbors. Then we build a wall around our time and activities and our hearts.

Granted, cattle need fences to stay in their field and dogs often need fences to stay in their yard. Fences can be a necessity in agriculture. But fences do not help create healthy neighbor relationships.

We are now learning that positive and healthy neighbor relationships lead to strong neighborhoods. And strong neighborhoods foster diverse relationships, connect residents with opportunities, promote human capital and support children’s growth. If we can strengthen America’s neighborhoods, we can improve people’s well-being and access to the American dream.

This week, why not remove the metaphoric fence from around your heart and home? You’ll be amazed at what can happen if you let people in, not only to your homes but your heart, too.

—David Burton, Springfield


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