Are you shoveling your walk for your neighbor, or so you don’t get sued?

This morning Colorado is blanketed with a fresh coat of beautiful, white, powdery snow. The air is quiet and all you want to do is pour a second cup of coffee and dig into your Netflix list.

But instead, you’re digging out hats, gloves, scarves and boots to go out into that winder wonderland and scrape it off of your sidewalk.

Are you out there, chipping away at the ice formed under the footprints left by the really early joggers, because that’s what good neighbors do? Or, if you’re really honest, are you doing it so a lawyer doesn’t knock on your door later today to subpoena you for all you’re worth?

Let’s face it, we live in a litigious society. Each year there are over 500,000 civil lawsuits in federal courts. These complaints cost the US economy an estimated $239 billion every year, or $812 for every citizen. Even the faintest possibility of a lawsuit can drive us out into the cold, both literally and metaphorically.

On top of the lawsuits, almost everything we see in the news encourages us to interact with our fellow humans defensively instead of in the spirit of community. From murders, kidnapping and theft to differences in views about politics, culture or lawn care, it seems like being neighborly just isn’t worth it.

So we shovel the walk defensively. It’s a necessary action to avoid the messiness of the outside world, not a way to connect with neighbors and show appreciation for the people who live around us.

Changing how we view clearing snow, however, can change how we view the world. America was built on the spirt of community. Neighbors linking arms to carve out a future in the wilderness.

That spirit of cooperation was made possible because of the absence of government. Because America’s government was limited, Americans were free to help each other without abdicating their responsibility as citizens. As our government has grown, we have become less engaged as citizens.

For example: we are quick to grumble when the snow plows don’t show up early enough, right? But the real act of civic engagement is to walk across the street and help a neighbor finish their walk. We all know someone nearby who can’t clear the snow either because they are physically unable, or maybe just too busy. What kind of nation would we be if we all pushed the shovel a couple of more times than we had to?

Shoveling snow off of your sidewalk so your neighbor can use it is an expression of freedom and self-reliance of the highest order. It is an outward demonstration of your willingness to take responsibility for your property, and to care for your neighbors.

To the early morning jogger, the dog walker, or the mom with a stroller and kids wrapped in six layers of fleece, I hope you enjoy the extra scrape, the dash of salt, and the love of a neighbor who hopes my efforts will make your day just a touch easier.

And then, neighbor, I hope you’ll pass it on.

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