Advocacy at Home – Neighborhood Gestalt

Remember in the post, “Advocacy at Home – Overview,” an example was to pick up a trash cup in the gutter and having done so, improved the entire street? Neighborhood gestalt is about stuff like that but much more multidimensional. What can the reader do in one’s own neighborhood, even one’s home – that will provide a satisfactory gestalt?

Main Entry:ge£stalt

Pronunciation:g*-*st*lt, -*sht*lt, -*st*lt, -*sht*lt


Inflected Form:plural ge£stalt£en  \-*st*l-t*n, -*sht*l-, -*st*l-, -*sht*l-\ ; or gestalts

Etymology:German, literally, shape, form


 : a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts.

For example, a neighborhood’s government service infrastructure consists of water, gas, electricity, adequate law enforcement, fire response, education, health services, sewage, trash collection, tree trimming, replacing streetlights, collecting unwanted junk, maintaining streets and sidewalks, clearing street snow and maintaining common space shrubbery and lawns – all of which create a neighborhood that seems orderly and provides a nice neighborhood in which to live. In other words, the gestalt is pleasant and respectable, creating an atmosphere that is greater than just performing government services.

Gestalt is more than government infrastructure. It includes the reader’s home and property. Does the reader care for personal appearance in the same way the city cares for the neighborhood? Does your lifestyle reflect the rest of the neighborhood? Does the reader keep yards and porches free of junk, trash, and odd lot paraphernalia? Trimmed shrubs and cut grass? Does the reader paint and repair the outside of the home?

This tendency to comply with one’s surroundings is an evolved survival behavior that depends on normalization and tribal trust for security. Gestalt turns out to be more than government services. Some communities create Home Owner Associations to assure normalization. The mariner thinks this is a bridge too far, having a sense of the Third Reich looking over one’s shoulder. Free expression, too, is a form of normalization.

It turns out that gestalt is found everywhere, even in the worst slum – although normalization and tribal trust conform to different tribal behaviors. The super rich have gestalt, too. Who dare not have a gardener?

Gestalt includes specific tonal and dialectic differences that signal one’s neighborhood – even within a block or two. The reader could vacation in parts of Baltimore, Philadelphia and Chicago where those from one neighborhood can barely understand those from another. “Skoeet. Whameano?”

Yet, gestalt is even more multidimensional. There are expectations within a neighborhood to behave with a given set of “manners;” the way one steps aside on the sidewalk, or parks one’s automobile carefully to not infringe on the neighbor’s spot, or in a slum neighborhood, ignoring theft charges when a young person (or an old one for that matter) walks by the sidewalk fruit stand and grabs a couple of oranges without paying. Can the reader sense a form of “manners” on the part of the store owner? Life can be tough.

The behavior of the store owner leads to another dimension of gestalt. Set aside the role of government. There is an obligation for the reader to help keep the neighborhood vibrant; keep the neighborhood dynamic and meaningful in society. There is an expectation for neighbors to participate in sustaining the vitality of the neighborhood. In a middleclass neighborhood, one feels the need to participate in babysitting clubs, little league, service organizations like the scouts, Rotary and Lions, support the churches, synagogues and mosques, the local library and even be patrons at local businesses. Are you old like the mariner? Do you participate in meals on wheels or provide transportation to those who cannot fend for themselves?

The reader gets the idea. We are closely involved in the gestalt of our neighborhood. But. But – far out on the horizon, there are greater gestalts which are addressed in other posts in this series. The reader’s obligation is not only to sweep the porch steps, it is to improve the troublesome circumstances on the horizon that eventually will reach the reader’s neighborhood – and perhaps not in a pleasant way.

There are many steps to sweep, many dimensions to repair.

Ancient Mariner

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