The upside of NextDoor

What We Do In The Shadows on FX and Hulu!

I was surprised today to come across a thread on Next Door which was not just civil but (almost) downright neighborly!

An unhoused woman posted that she and her dog were living in her car, but the heater had broken. She asked if anyone had a spare blanket or two. Here’s a sampling of the replies:

  • A referral to St. Vincent de Paul for food and dog supplies.
  • An invitation to take advantage of free veterinary services, coffee and foot care from a Recovery Cafe volunteer.
  • A question asking if the poster was posting in the right neighborhood group so she could ensure she’s contacting people who are local to her.
  • A lead on free blankets and coats provided by another neighbor.
  • A referral to a “pay it forward” restaurant serving free food.
  • An offer from a neighbor to come in person and help out this person they had never met.
  • A pastor from a church reaching out via private message.

There were a couple of snarky answers, but even these were dealt with convivially:

  • Suggestion about calling 911 followed by a sarcastic quip followed by a helpful tip.
  • Slamming the woman for having a dog and subjecting it to life in a car, followed by someone gently pointing out that the dog may have predated the homeless situation.

Contrast this with the typical Next Door posting which, to quote What We Do In The Shadows, usually devolves “into an orgy of racism.” Of course, it’s not always racism – Often it tips over into classism, fascism, communism, woke-ism, etc. I started wondering why this was the case. It dawned on me that in this case, a specific individual was actually posting about her own situation and asking for specific help.

The following criteria:

  • A specific person posting about a specific situation.
  • A situation that directly affects the poster.
  • A plea for a specific item or action to address the situation

…may counteract many knee-jerk reactions to more general postings that can elicit biased responses based on assumptions.  For example, here are actual Next Door threads I’ve come across:

  • Someone defecated on the doorstep of a business on my street last night:  This descended into a rant against the lack of toilet facilities for the homeless, lack of sympathy for the business owner who probably deserved it, lack of sympathy for the poster, who likely has a nice warm bathroom of their own and where do they come off complaining about someone else’s lack thereof, etc..
  • Someone asking if they’ve seen a stray dog running around the neighborhood:This quickly turned into a scathing condemnation of people not leashing their dogs (even though it was obvious that the dog had slipped its leash and that’s why it was running around), a railing against people who don’t spay or neuter their pets, a backlash against the fascist owners who insist on leashing their pets in the first place, etc.

It seems to me that people generally respond favorably to personal, detailed anecdotes.  It’s harder to swamp those with sweeping generalities. “My cousin Seamus from Dublin needs a working bicycle to commute to his research position at the University of Washington. Does anyone have any pointers?” is harder for trolls to poke holes in than “Irish relative needs transportation”.

The hope for humanity lies not in grandiose global, abstract plans, but in neighborly relationships at the smallest level. 

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