Know Thy Neighbor, by “The Old Salt” in Virginia

In reading “Preparedness Beginnings” by Two Dogs it struck me that I had been missing a vital part of basic preparedness . . . I was doing it naturally, but I realized how many post I had read that left it out or put it as “I will need to do this when . . . “.  My title tells the story, but let me digress a little and put some background to it: Like “Two Dogs”, who is a retired Marine Corp Officer, I’m a retired Naval Officer who drug his family around the country through nine moves in a 30 year career . So getting to “know” new neighbors was something we just took for granted, what I would like to do is share a few thoughts on the process and ideas to get you started (if you need it).  We are not new to the “preparedness game” since we bought our first retreat property in 1973 in central Texas, have lived through 2 major hurricanes in Florida and 1 in Virginia, 1 major earthquake in California, and have lived and seen the third world up close and personal . Because of what we have seen and lived through, we currently live at our retreat full time in western Virginia.

We had always lived by the four “S’s” of survival: Salvation (the reason to survive is to continue to spread the Good News), Sustenance (water, food and medical), Shelter (a roof over your head and clothing) and Security (to keep your family and friends safe from those that would do harm or take advantage of situations).  I would now like to add a fifth “S”, Surroundings . . . I guess we had always done it, but we just didn’t think about it.  My definition of “surroundings” is to “know your neighbors” who surround you . Are they an asset to you and your family, or a liability?   In today’s world, with the grid working, stores stocked, the rule of law and a culture we think we understand we can lump all our neighbors in the category of “unknown” (or “who cares”/) But if/when things don’t work all those “unknowns” now become “liabilities”, just because you don’t know!    I do not want to offend “Two Dogs”, or anyone else who might have posted similar statements, but having neighbors who own guns and shot regularly, without knowing something about them is a serious liability.   What will that family do if they cannot feed themselves or keep warm in the winter . . . and they have guns?   I agree with “Two Dogs” that you cannot knock on your neighbors’ door and ask “how are you stocked for bean, bullets and Band-aids”. That question must wait until you have spent time getting to know about them , and them you!   Those of you who are extroverts will have no problem with what I’m going to say, but for those introverts this will streeeetch your comfort level. But it is essential, if you really believe things can come apart or go wrong!

I do not intent to open Pandora’s Box about “gulching in place”, a bug-out retreat, escape to the woods or living in the “hinterboonies”. I have probably prepared for everyone of these and more. The point is you will have neighbors in any location, so you need to know who and what they are!   As an old pastor of ours used to say: “yes, but how”?  So let me share some of our thoughts (my wife of 39 years was and is a major part of this process).

First there is just “observation”, what can you just “see”, this is not spying, it happens as you walk, bike or drive by?  Are they home a lot or is it empty during the day?  Do you see kids’ toys; swing sets, bikes, or is the yard a “yard of the month club”?  Do you see a vegetable garden or a flower garden, are there fruit trees or shade trees?  What kind of car do they drive, is it a family sedan, sports car, yuppie SUV, a real off-road rig, or maybe just an old truck?  Do you see bumper stickers with a political message or theme?   Do they have an NRA decal?  Does it have a Department of Defense vehicle decal (active or retired military)?  Is the garage just for vehicles or is it a mechanics paradise?   Do you see a work shop?  Is there a stack of firewood close to the house?  Are you getting the idea?  For those that live in suburbia this is not a hard task, since small yards and high density living make this a fairly quick and easy task.  For those who live more rural, with homes on “acres” of land the house may not even be visible, so you will have to find more inventive ways.  Now this doesn’t tell you a lot, but it is a start and you may find some common ground you have with them.
Next are introductions. A simple knocking on the door and a “hello” starts it off.  Once again this is much easier in suburbia, but it works in rural areas as well. You just have to get up the nerve to do that “cold call”.  We have found that “hi, we’re your new/old neighbor down the street and thought we’d introduce ourselves” works wonders.  Another opportunity is if you see your “neighbors” having a yard sale or have an old car (or anything) for sale, you don’t have to buy anything, but take the opportunity to introduce yourself and begin the conversation.   You are looking for common ground, something to keep the conversation going and continue it another day!  In some cases gated entrances and long “private” drives makes this impractical, but that means you will have to be that much more inventive. 

Something we have done, with mixed results, is a “house warming party” or “block party”.  The old saying “if you feed them, they will come” has a lot of truth in it.  Make these “family” events and plan for the kids activities, it will go a long way to opening doors with parents.  Our experience has been a “personal” invitation works much better than a mailed invitation, even if only a small percentage shows up you have made a start.  It is amazing how quick you can expand your circle of new acquaintances, once you start networking with just a few new folks.   Ask about their jobs or career, how about children (ask a grandparent and the pictures will come out–share yours), do grown children live locally or distant, where do they shop and are there shops to stay away from, where is a good mechanic, do they have a hobby or passion, do they “can” vegetables, sew, do they hunt (this opens up whole new areas for discussion). Do you get the idea?  Let me caution you that you are still not at the point of discussing “beans, bullets and Band-Aids”.   You are trying to “learn” about your neighbors and at the same time they should be learning a little about you.  

Another vital area is “community involvement” . . . are you going to be as asset to your community or a liability?   Okay, how do you “get involved”?  In rural communities we have volunteer fire departments, even the Sheriffs Department looks for volunteers (office work and dispatch) and even if you cannot take an active role there are all the fund raisers they need help with, help out at the local animal shelter. Roll up your selves and join-in.   Join a local church and be an active member. Small rural churches will welcome you with open arms if you pitch-in and the networking possibilities are terrific for expanding your circle of new acquaintances.   We joined a small rural congregation where everyone was related to everyone else and had been for generations and felt this would be a real “test” of our abilities . . . we were worried about the wrong thing . . . we now have so many new friends and acquaintances we have trouble getting to know them on a real personal level (the wife took over piano duties and that freed up the music director to lead worship instead of playing, we took over teaching the teenage Sunday school class, which freed up the Pastors wife for other tasks and helped us get to know their parents . . . make yourself an asset to the community and they will get to know you) .

It is only after you have spend time getting to know them, that you can begin to think about “the discussion” (remember OPSEC, listen a lot, share a little).   By then you should have “arranged” all these new folks into groups, for me they looks like this (these are personal assessments and each must come up with their own, based on your circumstances and situations): the majority are sheeple, nice folks but hopeless clueless (you can spend time trying to “educate” them, but I’ve found this to be “tilting at windmills”, as a rule they are not a liability since they don’t believe in exercising their Second Amendment rights. They will become refugees, some (thankfully very few) will be assigned “liability” risks and that will have to factor into your security considerations (I have found it is a waste of time to reason with them, but they can be “educational” to talk to.) Let me add a caution, if a family has teenagers observe their behavior. It is unfortunate, but peer pressure has turn some nice kids into very self destructive individuals), a few will be like-minded individuals that you can relate and share and plan with. But it is the next group that you will spend the majority of your time with, they are “concerned”, but don’t know what to do!   It is these “willing” folks that should take the majority of your time. Help them learn; to change their lifestyle, set new priorities and prepare for their family.  For some you have already done this and I congratulate you, for others this may not be new, but you have failed to put it into action, for the rest this is new and scary stuff and this article only touches on concepts and leaves a lot of unknowns, but the best way to learn something is to just “do it”!  None of this is easy or quick so do not delay in starting this in your neighborhood. Your life and the life of your family may depend on the knowledge you learn.  – The “Old Salt” in Virginia.