In Daniel Kemmis’ Barn Raising, he tells the story of two neighbors, Albert and Lilly. Albert is a bawdy man with a loud presence. He humors the children with dirty stories, ones Lilly does not take kindly to. Under any other circumstance, Albert and Lilly would cease to interact with one another. Their personalities differed immensely and they don’t have much in common. But, Albert and Lilly are neighbors, “and that was that” (Kemmis, 24). Like many neighbors on the Montana plains during this time, Albert and Lilly played an important role in society. As Kemmis said, “Avoiding people you did not like was not an option. Everyone was needed by everyone else in one capacity or another” (24).
This idea of cooperation doesn’t apply much in today’s standards. How many of us actually know our neighbors? Not too many. Sure, we might occasionally wave and smile or place a Christmas card in their mailbox, but how many of us truly interact with our neighbors next door? Have we as a society lost our shared values?
Given that Daniel Kemmis grew up in Montana during the late 1940’s to 1950’s, I can understand where his views on community came from. As he said, “Americans on the frontier had found themselves united with their neighbors in the face of an often hostile and precarious existence” (24). However, I don’t believe these ideals are still in place now that the world has become more urbanized.
As Kemmis states, “Albert and Lilly may have differed in some of their personal values, they differed not at all in their experience of winter on the high plains. For both of them alike, the prairie winter was cold and deadly, and it absolutely required a good barn” (28). This quote is a harsh contrast to modern day living. Nowadays, if you need something built, you can hire someone to take care of it for you. We as a society have adapted to better survive in our environment and we no longer rely on our neighbors and our community to endure harsh climates. Our values haven’t changed within our society, our circumstances have. We can go our whole life without speaking to our neighbors because we no longer share the value and necessity to survive severe winters like Albert and Lilly. Kemmis makes a point that, “We have largely lost the sense that our capacity to live will in a place might depend upon our ability to relate to neighbors” (29). We live independently; we rely on ourselves to survive. Neighbors aren’t usually something that comes into play when we are looking for a place to relocate because they are no longer a necessity.
As a community, we still share values. For example, if I came home and saw my house had been broken into, I could go to my next-door neighbor and ask to use their phone. Although a bit less extreme, this example symbolizes our shared values as a community. We as neighbors value security and could come together over a situation like this.