I never expected that the most controversial piece of green living advice I could deliver would be: “Meet your neighbors.” After all, you and your neighbors have so much in common! You share a street, a building stairwell, a bodega where you each buy the exact same flavor of taquitos at 2 a.m.

But when I made that suggestion in my recent 21-Day Apathy Detox — designed to coax people back out into the world after a malaise-inducing election — a significant portion of Grist’s readership yelled into their keyboards. Their objections ranged from claims of being too shy to accusations that yours truly is a “Cheeto follower,” and included the colorful declaration that “my neighbor can go pound sand” (which I had to Google).

I included neighbor-cultivating in the inaugural Ask Umbra civic action guide for a very simple reason: Experts told me that it’s impossible to improve your community without being a part of it. But reader disdain for the idea resurrected a haunting suspicion I first felt when reporting on the tiny, off-the-grid house obsession a few years ago: that the pursuit of a sustainable life has become an exercise in looking inward.