The old adage tells us that good fences make good neighbors. The truth of the matter is that there is a lot more to neighborhood harmony than our fences. Yet neighborhood relations are a very touchy subject because, short of deciding to move, you can’t get away from your neighbors. My parents often wonder where I get my short fuse for neighbor issues from. It’s not from them, because they will put up with a lot more than I will. I think it stems from my belief in the Golden Rule, and not being able to fully wrap my head around other people not following it. Naïve, perhaps. But that’s me. The question is what is the appropriate response to things that bother you about your neighbors.
I have a life-long pet peeve with Parking spaces. Now, let me clarify…the neighborhood I grew up in and live in now do not have limited parking. Every house on the block has at least two—in some cases three—on-street parking spaces that border the property lines. To my mind’s way of thinking, people should park in front of their own houses whenever possible. At the very least, if you must park in front of someone else’s house, you should leave them the spot at the bottom of their steps. Needless to say, there are times, like street cleaning day, when this isn’t possible. But those should be the exception not the rule.
Suffice to say, there are a number of people in our neighborhood that don’t understand this concept, and it is frustrating to the rest of us. What can we do about it? Absolutely nothing. This is a question of etiquette. Of Politeness. Is it a public street? Yes. Does that mean we shouldn’t consider our neighbors? No.
No laws are being broken, and although I’ve seen some neighbors try to get the police to intervene in this issue, it is a futile effort because it is purely a question of being considerate of one another. If you are lucky, you have neighbors who merely don’t realize and you can speak to. I had one who would come home every day about 10 minutes before I did, park at the bottom of my steps, and then leave again about 15 minutes after I got home. Irksome to be sure. We spoke to him about it, and he began parking about 15 feet further up than he had been. Problem solved, harmony restored.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who are completely unapproachable and you don’t feel comfortable saying anything to. So instead, you remain agitated.
Then in the middle of the neighborhood spectrum there are Pets. Pets who bark at all hours. Pets who wander the neighborhood. Pet owners who walk their Pets and allow them to “go” in people’s yards. Technically these do violate laws. Yes, you can call the police to get assistance. But is it necessary to do so? In my opinion, not unless it is an issue of safety.
This is more an issue of making your neighbors aware of the fact that not everyone likes cats, so perhaps allowing your cat to roam the neighborhood is not a good idea—not to mention potentially dangerous for kitty. Or perhaps I like dogs, but don’t really want to worry about their “leavings” in my yard, particularly when our street has private front yards, sidewalk, then public tree-box spaces. Could I put up a fence to keep them out of my yard? Of course. Should I have to? No. A simple conversation that involves the word Please will normally do the trick.
Lastly there are Parties. We all like to party. My friends know I throw a huge blow out at least once a year and do plenty of other entertaining all year long. But how much is too much? Our neighborhood is a very family-oriented neighborhood. At least a third of the houses have small children, we have several households with alternative work-schedules. Most of the neighbors plan their parties in such a way that it doesn’t disturb the rest of the block. We wrap them up at a decent hour, or if we are going late, such as the night that I had guests until about 4 am (they wouldn’t leave!!!) we make sure our noise is contained inside our homes—low music, closed windows, etc.
Unfortunately not all are that considerate. There have been multiple occasions where one in particular has had loud parties that go on until nearly morning. Most of us are not going to leave our houses in the middle of the night to speak to a group of strangers about noise. So the police have been called out time after time, and the response is always that the party quiets for a short period of time, then revs back up. The Pièce de résistance is when, presumably in retaliation for the police being called, they begin to sing loud, profane songs before concluding their festivities. Why? Because they are mad and inebriated.
The bottom line with all of the things that can drive us crazy about our neighbors is that we have to live with one another. It is in everyone’s best interest that we do so in the most harmonious manner possible. Yes, you will always have those neighbors who complain about everything. You will also always have those neighbors who don’t care what anyone else thinks. Most people, however, live in the middle of the spectrum.
We just want to live in our homes in peace, enjoying what we work so hard for. Yes, good fences make good neighbors. What makes a great neighbor is one who treats you the way they want you to treat them. Great neighbors watch out for one another—help shovel snow, jumpstart your car, keep an eye on your kids and their own. Great neighbors know who lives on the block and will question strangers lingering around. Great neighbors will knock if they see your cat has escaped your house, or even take your dog into their yard if it gets loose while you’re not home—even when they may not like dogs. Great neighbors will ring your doorbell if they hear a child screaming bloody murder, because they care, not because they are nosy (and sorry mom…it goes back to the perm thing…but I still shouldn’t have screamed so loudly because that was embarrassing that the neighbors thought you were killing me).
Like everything else in life, we have a choice in how we treat others…why not aim to do and be the best we can?
Or, in the words of St. Jerome...