The middle-aged tenant couple in the adjacent suite—my neighbors—whom I hear or see daily at only a bit more than a 10-foot pole’s length are probably OK.

But I’ll never know, nor will they (regarding me), since few of my attempts at conversation with them upon moving in and in chance encounters over the nearly four months since I arrived here have gone beyond about 30 seconds and a virtual monologue (mine), even though only a thin wall stands between us.

When I arrived, to let them know I’d moved in and was not a prowler, I thought I’d introduce myself—in bright daylight. My initial and only old-school try at knocking on their door (which is immediately adjacent to mine and my trellised garden patio) and introducing myself seemed about as productive as trying to sell drums of toxic waste door-to-door.

On reflection,  “open door” better describes the physics than the sociology of that moment and momentary exchange. Curiosity or any kind of welcome—even a perfunctory question or comment? None then, none since, and probably never.  Cup of tea?—unthinkable, I think.

Can you imagine a job interview like thatan interview with no welcome, no questions, no comment?

Are These the Same  Kinds of Professionals?

So, it’s natural to ask why and how job interviews and so many modern neighbors can be so different, especially when the people involved in interviews and as neighbors are all professionals.

That’s the question to be posed and addressed here (while charitably allowing for the theoretical  possibility that somehow my own neighbors are and will  forever remain too busy to ever have a 1-minute driveway chat about how busy they are).

Of course, probably most of us have known warm, friendly, welcoming and kind neighbors, professional or not—maybe even some way too in-your-face and curious about us.

However, unlike welcoming, open job interviews, friendly, engaged and engaging neighbors are increasingly becoming the exception rather than the rule—especially in impersonalizing urban high-rise and suburban beehive “communities”.

We’ve all been conditioned to expect or accept more or less complete disconnects with other high-density high-rise tenants and hit-or-miss results in grid-designed suburbia. But my neighbors and I are living in a safe, sylvan setting—minutes from a marina and next to a lovely resort-area forest, on nicely landscaped property overlooking the ocean and featuring an elegant, enormous home divided into affordable self-contained suites by the very friendly and kind owners.  

On top of that, that couple next door are very well-educated, apparently quite normal English-speaking professionals with cars.

All of this, in a charming ocean-side small town with fewer than 5,000 people, where,  I’ve been told, I don’t have to lock my door, because it’s so safe (despite the largely reclusive bears and rare cougar, which, such assurances notwithstanding, are enough for me to lock it).

Sounds like a Norman Rockwell paradise, right?—except for the fact that even if my neighbors’ doors aren’t literally locked, figuratively, it’s another story. (Again, and I stress, the delightful couple who own the property are quite the opposite.)

Hence, genuinely puzzled, I have to ask why job interviews are so different from encounters with some, if not all too many, modern neighbors.

This is worth asking, because, with deeper understanding, we may be able to apply some of the best features of interviews and interview dynamics to what are, apart from our workplaces, the two most important venues in our lives—our neighborhoods and homes, to achieve a healthier, happier work-life balance. (with a healthier sense of community and connection).

Job Interviews vs. Neighbors: a Comparison

1. Needs: An interview is always with someone who has a need that is being addressed, if not met by and for both parties. One is looking for, the other is offering a job.

Modern neighbors in a G8 country like Canada, on the other hand, probably and rightly believe most of their material, health, entertainment and physical needs having been met by their accumulated wealth, their partners and family, the nanny State, digital toys, social media circles, their SUVs, wall-screen TVs and the local supermarket, neighborly neighbors are not, in these terms, necessary—except during a natural disaster or other emergency.

So, what makes interviews and all too many neighbors so different, and what can we do to make the experience of neighbors more like a job interview?

After all, if most of us have everything we need, the only people who will “go out of their way” to be “friendly” must be the others who don’t and therefore want some of what we’ve got.

That means a no-win zero-sum scenario in which we “lose” and give up something in the interaction. In other words, the friendly neighbor has got to be a parasite up to no good or at least a potentially demanding, boring and distracting annoyance.

For our lives, such “friendly” neighbors are not only unnecessary; they are also undesirable.

The first fallacy in this very pervasive kind of thinking is that it confuses needing resources with needing something else, e.g., positive experiences, feelings, connectedness, outlook and general positive frame of mind (which although not in themselves resources, make having all the requisite, otherwise jealously-guarded resources all the more enjoyable).

The second fallacy is the confusion of needs with wants: Just because we don’t need Häagen-Dazs rum raisin ice cream doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want or at least enjoy it (within sensible limits).

Ditto for friendly neighbors.

2. Privacy: Neighbors and interviews differ dramatically with respect to the amount of personal privacy they demand. Any perceived attempt at concealment, secrecy, exclusion or isolation in a job interview will guarantee failure. Yet, the more one’s neighbors successfully pull these off, the more successful they feel.

Why is that?

Answer: The more we have, the more we value privacy. The more “gold” you have, the greater the incentive to hide it from others. Historically, sociologically and psychologically this has proven to be axiomatic.

Our modern notions of privacy, like so many other things, e.g., fashion and sports, are “have”-aristocrat hand-me-downs to the “have-nots”. Wanting to protect their mystique, “divine right-to-rule” mystery or other power secrets, and to prevent any broad awareness of the true scope of their wealth and intrigues, ruling elites (royal, priestly, governmental, corporate, etc.)  have always created cocooned privacy for themselves to demarcate their worlds and power from those beneath or rivaling them.

Over time, the elites’ notions of privacy have percolated down to the masses through democratization and profitable marketing by the powerful, e.g., of private homes, cars, stoves, refrigerators, phones, etc.

So now, the modern cocooned neighbor is like ye lords of olde: Needing nothing but the purchased (or seized) fruits of one’s neighbor’s labor (at whatever his job is) and jealously paranoid about sharing or relinquishing any of it, many modern neighbors stop only a tad short of digging a moat around their castles to ensure their privacy.

Of course, there are exceptions to this privacy fetish, e.g., when we must show off our fancy new cars—but, nonetheless, with a residual, knee-jerk nod to the preservation of privacy in the form of opaque tinted windows through which we can observe the envy (or road rage) of others without being observed gloating (or cringing).

The caravans of limos at the 2013 ultra-private, hyper-secret “shadow government” Bilderberg meeting in Watford, England amply illustrate this.

But a job interview is so unlike this, even when held within the sanctum of a powerful, secretive corporation’s headquarters. Indeed, a job applicant who knows less about the corporation than another is less likely to get hired.

Curiosity and questions are not just welcome, they are expected. Likewise, the evasive, incurious candidate will handicap himself.

This combination of secretive corporation and open interviews, unlike neighbor-enforced privacy, represents a 2-tier form of privacy, comprising one level of semi-openness and one level of real, strictly-enforced secrecy.

At the interview, semi-open curiosity and interest (up to a point) are not only welcome, but also, in effect, mandatory—something no neighbor, welcoming or not, would ever suggest.

 3. Triumph of the machines:  When, as suggested above, your home has all the state-of-the-art-and-technology toys anyone could want, e.g., HD TV, iPhones, computers, Sony PlayStations and, before much longer, robot valets, who needs neighbors or other new people at your door for fun or anything else?

This “rise of the machines” is seriously impacting the range and nature of needs that remain to be met by other humans.

So, in more general terms, why would we need more people in our space when we’ve got even better machines? (Example: I confess—the chess program I play and occasionally beat plays better and faster than any human I’ve ever faced; what’s more, it won’t crow and brag when I lose or throw a fit when I win.)

But job interviews are the diametrical opposite: They require new people as their key resource. That’s why people are called “human resources”. Until most jobs are automated or robotized, we can expect interviews to retain whatever traditional “neighborly” features they still have.

4. Fear: Of course, fear is part of any job interview. There’s the fear that it will be a waste of time because the fit is wrong and that the job will not be filled or won. But there is no fear of the interviewer or applicant per se, and certainly no terror. There are dangers in an interview, but (with the rarest of exceptions) no dangerous or otherwise fearsome people.

Although neighbors and interviews alike can be characterized by the fear of wasting time with the “wrong” people, neighborhoods, unlike workplaces, have far more guarded attitudes and feelings, bordering on terror, about new people showing up, even with obvious justification, e.g., self-introduction as a new neighbor or walk-in job applicant.

With much more to lose and more ways to lose it than interviewers, neighbors in these suspicion-riddled times and homes shut and hunker down.

To make matters worse, throw into the fear mix mismatched demographics, e.g., single neighbors, instead of other couples,  next to clingy couples. The only interview analogue of that would be a paranoid recruiter interviewing a recruiter who seems to want his job. Otherwise, interview demographics are either a non-issue or one that, by law,  is, in general, not allowed to surface.

This is all so sad. Having neighbors who are more like typical job interviewers used to be normal. Now, it’s an endangered experience. If the traditional, welcoming ways can be protected where they still exist and revived where they have declined, a very big step toward creating an ideal work-life balance will be taken.

(Of course, some traditional neighborhoods have had their own downsides. In one very small town in which I lived during my Japan years, some of my xenophobic gossipy granny neighbors allowed me neither communication nor privacy as they furtively peered at me through bamboo blinds.)

This naturally suggests we should ask how positive neighborliness can be achieved for its own sake or in the service of better work-life balance. Hence, it means asking why friendly neighbors still exist, given the lamentable, opposite trend.

Tips for a More Neighbor-Friendly, Interview-Like Work-Life Balance

Although some of the reasons  why friendly neighbors exist have been stated or implied above, the following can serve as an expanded overview of how to be more neighborly and contribute to improving everyone’s work-life balance:

1.    Stop confusing what is needed with what is enjoyable.

2.    Try to be vigilant without thinking like a vigilante.

3.    Accept the possibility that your neighbors are as wonderful, nice, normal and interesting as you or your dog thinks you are.

4.    Wait until androids can replace all of us at home and work before excluding neighbors from your life.

5.    Don’t confuse reasonable privacy with ridiculous and inhospitable paranoid isolation.

6.    Distinguish your precious resources from precious experiences, and allow for the possibility that neighbors may contribute the latter.

7.    Treat your neighbors as you would want them to treat you—in a job interview.

8.    Try to be more of a neighbor…

….than a neigh-bore.


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