Freud had no use for the Biblical precept that you should love your neighbor. He certainly did not advise people to follow the precept that told them to love strangers.
To his mind, your neighbor wishes you nothing but ill. Therefore you should be wary when dealing with such a perfidious guttersnipe.
Therein is the difference between Freudian theory and the teaching that founded Western civilization. Freud taught mistrust. The Bible teaches trust. Freud accepted anomie. The Bible sought to help people to overcome it.
“Love thy neighbor” promotes social connection, a sense of belonging to a community. For a social being it’s a vital need.
Since Freud did not see humans as social beings, he thought that loving your neighbor was a trap, a lure, a ruse … designed to trick you into repressing your impulses and libidinous longings.
For more on the topic, see my book, The Last Psychoanalyst.
In the meantime, psychologist Eric Kim of the University of Michigan has put the idea to the test. He set out to measure the difference between people who were socially connected, who were on good terms with their neighbors, who exchanged pleasantries and information and those who were more Freudian, more distrustful and more hostile.
The results showed unequivocally that those who were more sociable and better connected had markedly less heart disease.
James Hamblin reported in The Atlantic:
People who know and trust their neighbors are less likely to have heart attacks. New research builds on the understated health benefits of a sense of belonging and community.
Social connection at the neighborhood level has long been known to be associated with good mental health, and some aspects of physical health. But this is the first study to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks, which hit more than 700,000 Americans every year and cost everyone billions of dollars.
Of course, the study is subject to question and Kim has tried to address them.
According to Hamblin:
But does it really matter if you feel connected in your community, as long as you have relationships and connectedness somewhere? (Like, on the Internet?)
Rare among studies of its kind, Kim and colleagues controlled for social connectedness at the individual level. "We also controlled for dispositional factors,” he said, “thinking that perhaps optimistic people might think that they are more socially connected.” The survey included measures of optimism, and the analysis also accounted for things like age, race, income, marital status, education, mental health, and known risk factors for heart attacks like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
To be clear, your neighbors are a physical presence in your life. You connect with them by greeting them on the street or in the elevator. You face them and speak to them. The connection is more immediate than anything you could achieve by exchanging emails or text messages.
[One notes in passing that the champions of deconstruction believe that speech, voice and presence are valued by our civilization because they facilitate the repression of the primal instincts that would be unleashed if we spent more time communicating via writing. They might not put it exactly in those terms, but the implication is clear.]
Being a scientist, Kim does not make grandiose claims. He does not tout it as settled science. He suggests that even if the correlation does not bespeak a strict causation, being more friendly and outgoing with your neighbors cannot hurt you. [Obviously, he missed out on the Freudian formula for misery.]
In Hamblin’s words:
"Are you saying that people should get out and meet their neighbors and join community groups?" I asked.
"I don't think there's enough evidence for that,” Kim said, like a rock. “This is only a correlation; we didn't really isolate causation. But I really don't see how that could hurt."
Kim suggests that the cardiac prosperity he documented may come through people checking in on one another and noticing health problems, sharing health-related information, lending money and sharing resources, and “eyes on the street”—sociologist Jane Jacobs’ famous sociological principle that people protect people. "Since I'm a psychologist,” Kim said, “I also really believe in how helpful emotional support can be in buffering against the toxic effects of stress."
Note well, the felicitous term: “cardiac prosperity.”
Yet, the study measures only perceived social cohesion, not actual social cohesion. Surely, there is likely to be a direct correlation, but the correlation has not been demonstrated:
It's difficult to build tight-knit communities, but it's less difficult to help people feel connected. A major point in this study is that it didn’t measure actual social cohesion, just the subjects' sense of it. The journal article concludes: "Higher perceived social cohesions may have a protective effect against myocardial infarction." Emphasis mine. Does it matter if you have something, or just that you believe you have it? Everyone will define and understand cohesion differently. What do you consider trustworthy? Friendly? Does helpful mean calling 9-1-1 if you believe your neighbor is being murdered, or do you have to bring them soup whenever they look sad?
Questions remain, and clearly Hamblin, being a physician has his doubts. Still, it seems that loving your neighbor, being cordial and civil in your daily life will benefit your heart, and maybe you too.