Lasley — Lack of neighboring causing problems in Iowa

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — Rural sociologist Paul Lasley sees the word, neighbor, as a verb, and from what he’s observed, rural Iowans aren’t doing enough of it.

"Much of the conflict in rural Iowa today is because of a lack of neighboring," Lasley said during a keynote speech at the recent Women Around Agriculture Conference in Clear Lake. "When people don’t know each other, they don’t trust each other. One challenge is to strengthen the social fabric of rural Iowa so that people start cooperating."

People say they don’t have time to neighbor.


"But people always find time to do the things they enjoy," Lasley said. "We need to emphasize that neighboring is part of our civic engagement, part of our social responsibility."

Rural people are very good at reaching out when a family experiences a loss or a catastrophe. Neighbors will come together to harvest a crop, bring meals or raise money to help others.

"But we really need to reach out and help each other as part of every day activities," Lasley said. "It’s part of who we are and an important part of who our parents and grandparents were. Some of the greatest benefits of living in rural areas are the sense of place and belonging and knowing that people care."

Lasley said some of the happiest people he knows are also the busiest.

"They’re busy helping others and encouraging networking," he said.

Some of the greatest accomplishments in rural areas have come as a result of working together —building schools, churches and parks. When people get to know each other, they begin to build relationships and work together.

Today people do know their neighbors, but Lasley’s data suggests it’s in a very superficial way.

"They know their neighbor’s truck or car or farm equipment when they drive by on the road, but when you ask when was the last time they helped their neighbors or shared a meal, it’s been a long time," Lasley said. "When I talk about neighbor, it’s as a verb not just a noun. In our every day ‘busyness’ we may have lost the art of neighboring."


Lasley shared photos of rural women throughout the 20th century and talked about how their roles have changed. He showed pictures of women working on the farm, caring for children, cooking, teaching school, cleaning the church and posing for pictures with their families.

"Both men and women farmers need to build networks with their farm and nonfarm rural neighbors," Lasley said.

People like neighboring when they take time for it but are often reluctant to make the effort, Lasley said.

"People are working more hours and when they go home at night, they’re tired," Lasley said. "It’s easier to stay home than to visit with the neighbors, but when they make the contact they always have a good time."

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