Hell Is Neighbors


CaptureA few days ago, a man requested that we give his neighbor a trespassing warning. By the time the ordeal was finished, the neighbor had three women, including his wife, simultaneously yelling at him in the front yard. It seems the real problem was that he had been “neighborly” with all three!

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is quoted as saying, “Hell is other people.” An accurate corollary would be, “Hell is neighbors.”

Neighbor disputes might not seem like a hot topic for tactical discussion until you realize that these problems consume significant law enforcement resources every day across the country. For reasons ranging from momentous to mundane, neighbors regularly destroy each other’s property, engage in physical confrontations, and even commit murder.

Peaceful resolution of such conflicts is so critical that we are going to talk about the care and feeding of those weirdos who live next door.

It is aggravating to live near people who don’t share similar values, and the matter can easily become a highly toxic situation. Sometimes, an entire block becomes so embroiled in a controversy that Maple Street resembles the hedgerows of France during that little neighborhood quarrel of 1914.

Before things get to the point of machine guns and barbed wire, stop and adopt an attitude of calm disregard. Since it is very likely you will remain neighbors, at least in the short term, you must develop some type of psychological accommodation that allows you to reasonably co-exist.

The alternative is allowing the issue(s) to gnaw at your brain and consume every waking moment until the pressure causes you to do something regrettable. Regardless if you toss your trash into their yard or throw a roundhouse punch into the neighbor’s face, you’ve lost control of yourself and the situation. Losing control ultimately leads to failure.

When you can’t stand things any longer, try talking. Make a point to talk with the neighbor, casually at first, until you can bring up your concerns in a non-confrontational and unassuming manner. This is not about being a wimp. Rather, this is a tactical move to gain voluntary compliance from someone who, by your own standards, is likely missing several key chromosomes.

Don’t expect to hit a home run with one brief chat, but remember that verbal persuasion is one of the most effective weapons in your tactical arsenal.

If you’ve tried polite conversation and things don’t improve, start thinking about your possible responses and the long-term ramifications. This is extremely important, because neighbor disputes commonly devolve into a pointless series of tit-for-tat actions that resolve nothing but bring truckloads of long-term misery for everyone.

If things are getting serious, consider a fence, but realize it will also cause problems. Make sure the barrier is built well back from your property line, even if it means giving up a few feet of prime real estate. This is much easier than waking up some morning to a backhoe and surveyor pointing out that your new fence cuts two inches across the opposing property line. I’ve seen it.

If you can’t afford a fence, a nice thick prickly hedge can also do wonders for your peace of mind.

Animals are a common problem. Above all, never harm the neighbor’s dog or cat. Aside from getting yourself into legal trouble, there is no quicker way to start a physical confrontation than to hurt someone’s pet. Keep in mind that the animal is just doing what comes naturally. The owner is the problem.

If animal waste is a continual issue, you could be courteous and return it to the owner’s yard. Setting a bag of Fido’s accumulated output just across the property line might make your point. I had an instance where the property owner left a note card with the waste. It read, “I believe this belongs to your dog. I thought you might want it back.”

It is perfectly OK to call law enforcement for barking or wandering dogs after you try to remedy the situation by talking with the owner. However, be reasonable: don’t get tagged as the neighborhood crank who calls the cops whenever someone’s dog lets out a whimper. If the neighbor’s animal is loose, let them know it has escaped. If it actually did break free from confinement, they’ll be grateful. If they intentionally let it run free, you’ve let them know that isn’t acceptable.

Children are another common source of neighborly friction. When I was growing up, the neighborhood moms routinely administered corporal punishment when we were caught committing minor atrocities, and this was usually followed by another spanking when we got home. People today are reluctant to accept that kind of direct intervention, so talking with parents is the only real hope for resolution.

Teenagers are a special breed of headache. Yelling at them for revving their engine or otherwise being a nuisance eventually results in further trouble as the rebellious youngsters do everything within their limited means to make your life miserable. Though it’s challenging, try to be reasonably friendly. That way, they’ll spend more time destroying the lawn ornaments of the cranky old lady down the block.

Patience is the key in all neighborhood disputes. Know that with the passing of time, the problem will get better, as the neighbors grow older, go to prison, or someone moves away. You’ll eventually win the battle, as long as you don’t do anything stupid to hurt your cause. In other words, the old flaming bag of dog poo on their porch isn’t an option.

However, if you do anything that involves a septic-tank service truck, please send us pictures.

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Brent Wheat

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