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I’ve always enjoyed knocking on my neighbors’ doors. As a child growing up on the British island of Guernsey, I’d go door to door asking neighbors for sponsorship donations for the local 20-mile charity walk which took place every May. My solo doorbell ringing began at age 8.

If you lived near me, this was the young lad who was knocking on your door in 1988.

If you lived near me, this was the young lad who was knocking on your door in 1988.

The experience was always the same: Before heading out, I’d dread the impending task, wondering what kind of unfriendly responses would greet me. At the first couple of houses, I’d feel a little awkward but the neighbors were friendly. After 5 minutes I’d be on a roll – my lines were smooth and everybody was kind. Suddenly, it would seem like an adventure. Who would be the next person to answer the door? What would they say? What would their house look like close up?

I visited countless houses. One woman comes to mind: Her fingernails on one hand were 2 feet long! I’d have been scared of her in the street. But she was actually extremely nice and gave me a generous donation. In fact, I recall that almost everybody was friendly and most people donated money to my charity walk.

20 years later, I’d moved to San Francisco, California, and was waste-high in community-building endeavors. Projects included working with neighbors to organize social events, gathering signatures in support of local initiatives, and so on.

It quickly dawned on me that knocking on doors – lots of doors! – was the easily the best way to accomplish such tasks.

6th Avenue in San Francisco. The first street in the US where I went door knocking.

6th Avenue in San Francisco. The first street in the US where I went door knocking.

People often assume there are lots of grumpy people out there who would not take kindly to a visit from a stranger. Having rung hundreds of doorbells, I can tell you that this is not true. Almost everyone who comes to the door is friendly – some are delightful. I can honestly say that knocking on doors has improved my opinion of humanity. People are, on the whole, friendlier than you might think.

Me, center, with two of my neighbors, Elliot and Jeff.

Me, center, with two of my neighbors, Elliot and Jeff.

Community is the glue that binds society together, keeping it happy and healthy. If you believe this and are willing to act on it, at some point you’ll be ringing doorbells. Perhaps you want to have a neighborly social event, organize a street tree planting, or collect signatures to support alterations to your house. Yes, you can leave flyers on doorsteps but nothing beats face to face communication.

Recently, I rang doorbells to collect contact information for all my neighbors. It was delightful to meet all the faces behind those doors I’d walked past a thousand times. Young and old, boisterous and shy – they were all there, on my own street. It was like opening the door to an unexplored room in your house – so many treasures inside!

Here are some of my neighbors. Lovely folks!

Here are some of my neighbors. Great folks!

I encourage you to overcome the shyness of ringing your neighbors’ doorbells. Once you’re warmed up, as I found out when I was 8 years old, you’ll have a great time and will feel rightly proud of yourself. Many of your neighbors will be touched that you reached out. They’re waiting for you!

My advice: Find a purpose (a social gathering is a good start), take a clipboard and paper to collect contact information, and off you go!

If this 8 year old can do it, maybe you can too…

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