Last week I wrote a post about the declining sense of connectedness between neighbors in our nation and why we need to reverse this trend (read the post here). It is often easy to assert the benefits of connectedness and make recommendations for getting to know your neighbors when speaking of neighbors in a general sense. The subjective view from your porch; however, may make this notion of connectedness seem downright impossible. This is how my husband and I have felt since we moved into our house 8 months ago.
The neighbors closest to us in proximity have posed some challenges. Our neighbor on one side smokes cigarettes on her front step and frequently tosses her cigarette butts into our yard. Our neighbor on the other side frequently has visitors who park and wash their tricked out (i.e., heavily accessorized) cars along the curb while they blare rap music loudly. An elderly man who lives a few houses away walks his dog without a leash and lets it roam into our yard and relieve itself on our grass. (Apparently he sees no need to bring a sack with him to pick up after the dog.)
I know we need to love these neighbors. In order to do this effectively, we need to form relationships with them. How can we do this when we are frustrated with their actions? I don’t have all the answers, but there are a few lessons I’ve learned (or am still trying to learn—sometimes it’s hard!) over the past few months.
Tips for forming positive relationships with difficult neighbors
- Be humble. I hate to admit it, but I sometimes develop a feeling of self-righteousness when I see my neighbors do things that I feel are wrong. I feel superior because I’m not doing these sorts of things to them. The thought that I am right and they are wrong does nothing to foster connectedness. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect.
- Be merciful. When my neighbors aren’t respectful of me, I often have the selfish thought that I shouldn’t have to be respectful of them. You know what? I’m wrong. The Bible teaches us to love our enemies, to do good to them, and to lend without expecting to get anything back (Luke 6:35). We are instructed to do to others as we would have them do to us (Luke 6:31). Retaliation is not an option; mercy is the option.
- Pray for them. The same passage in Luke that I’ve already referred to also says to pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:28). When I come before the Lord and pray earnestly, He is able to work on my heart to make me more patient and give me wisdom regarding how to connect with my neighbors.
- Get to know your neighbors. I can easily grow angry at the “elderly man” down the street whose dog poops in my yard, but it’s more difficult to grow angry when I know the dog is walked by Mr. Smith, an army veteran who walks his debilitated wife’s dog every morning. Knowing the names and stories of my neighbors helps me be more tolerant of their actions. As I get to know them better, opportunities may come up to mention their troublesome actions and see if they are willing to change.
- Set a positive example. I’m sure to routinely check my yard for pieces of trash (including cigarette butts) and dispose of them properly. My husband and I don’t play our music loudly. We maintain our yard as best we can and do little things to help our neighbors, such as shoveling snow off their sidewalks in the winter. (We don’t have a dog, but if we did we certainly wouldn’t let it relieve itself in the neighbor’s yard.) We hope our neighbors will see our example, realize the benefits of our actions, and follow suit. Even if they don’t, at least we are being respectful and responsible.
- Communicate about the behavior. You can always approach your neighbors about the issues. We haven’t done this yet because the actions that bother us aren’t that significant. However, there are actions that warrant discussion. When you approach a neighbor for a discussion of this type, be friendly, calm, and respectful. Be sure to emphasize that the behavior—not the neighbor—is the problem.
- Seek help. If your neighbors’ actions are a threat to your safety, you may have to bring in a third party for help. If you have a homeowners’ association, you can refer to its guidelines and talk to a board member for advice. The association may bring penalties against the neighbors. You can also check local laws, which often address nuisance issues such as noise, yard upkeep, and animals. If your neighbors are violating laws, then local officials can initiate legal action against them.
My husband and I are pleased that we’ve already begun this process of forming positive relationships with our neighbors because there are increased opportunities to interact with them during the summer months. Whether we see them while we’re doing yard work or barbequing, we hope to build on these lessons so we can begin having meaningful interactions with our neighbors. (Last week’s post on neighbors features links to lists of ideas that will help foster meaningful interactions.)
Do you have any difficult neighbors? How have you managed to connect with them?