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Neighbors • Posted: Jan 01, 2009 12:50:41Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

My son lives in a loft apartment in Brooklyn NY. He is on the first floor and has an outdoor patio, which he and his roommates use for entertaining. His neighbors above used to enjoy getting drunk and urinating off their balcony onto his patio. Cajoling, invitations to the party, peace offerings, none of that worked to stop the yellow rain. An electrified screen over the patio was contemplated. What eventually worked was some very serious intimidation, backed up by a couple of very scary looking friends. Sad.

The incident reminded me of a neighbor I once had who took unusual pleasure disrupting the progress of our condominium association’s business meetings. He cost us a great deal of money in legal fees researching the obscure objections he'd present to our plans. What he wanted, I think, was to be elected to the Board of Directors. But, he never was. Apparently seeking revenge one evening, he superglued the Board President's apartment locks, preventing preparation for an important meeting. Law suits were threatened. What seemed to appease him for a while was appointing him head of a special committee. Eventually, the obnoxious neighbor got another job offering and moved on.

Many of us, I think, have had experience with neighbors that disturb our peace of mind in some way, perhaps with loud noise, failure to maintain their property, unsavory smoke and bad odors, letting their pets leave droppings where they aren't appreciated, etc., etc. Thankfully, most of us in the developed world have not had to deal with neighbors threatening violence, like in many parts of the developing world.

The overt behaviors within most such confrontations differ widely. But, are the underlying dynamics really very different? Conflict and conflict resolution are areas of serious study and ongoing research. I do not profess to know the field thoroughly, but I do have a couple observations and suggestions.

One, most conflicts involve competition of some type, either over property, resources, or influence, usually within a zero-sum framework. In other words, one party's gain is another party's loss. It seems obvious that a change in circumstance toward a win-win/enlarge the pie framework would go a long way toward reducing any felt necessity to compete.

Two, most people see both themselves and the other party as involved in a long story, sometimes going back generations. To the extent a new narrative can be woven that sketches out a different set of relationships between the parties in conflict, perhaps to one requiring cooperation or mutual dependence, people have opportunity to move beyond the original issues of conflict. Proselytizing religions and political movements attempt to do just that by organizing converts under a different view of the world. Bush's war on terror was an attempt to weave a new organizational narrative for us to follow, as is the scientifically described threat of global warming. Many advertising slogans follow the same tact, as in "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste".

Three, a policy of isolation will never promote the other two observations. Isolation only reifies and hardens thought processes. Interaction offers opportunity to see things differently, expose false convictions, illuminate alternatives.

May your new year be filled with opportunities to see things differently and formulate narratives that lead us all toward the winner's circle.

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008