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damage control

The question

I have a next door neighbour who appears to get a kick from confronting my family at the common swimming pool where we live. She has yelled at them and threatened to call the police. When my son tells her to “mind her own business,” he gets the one-finger salute. To follow up, she sent an embellished e-mail to the strata president, who has compassion for her and takes action whenever she complains about minor incidents she has instigated. She’s caused friction not only with my family but in the neighbourhood. I try to ignore her, but it’s hard where we live (16 individual homes on four acres). When it is unavoidable, I walk by without any contact. The neighbour on the other side of her also avoids her when possible. What more can I do?

The answer

I’ve always received questions about interpersonal friction, between friends, family members, neighbours and so on.

I mean, obviously, it’s more or less my stock in trade. Wherever humans attempt to mingle and interact, there’s bound to be contretemps.

But it’s hard to ignore that I’ve been getting more questions than ever lately about what can only be dubbed “random friction.”

It’s also hard to ignore out in the streets – anecdotally, at least. Like so many of us, I’ve been leaving my house less frequently than previously, but when I do, almost every time it seems like someone is flipping out, acting erratically and/or confronting someone else in, say, a crowded store – e.g. (composite example):

“Hey you! Why the heck aren’t you wearing a mask? You suck!”

“You suck! As a matter of fact, you stink! You emit a foul and unpleasant odour!”

“You’re ugly!”

“That’s what you think!”

“That’s what I know!”

And so on. Clearly, the pressure of everything going on right now is getting to many of us. Conflict ensues.

The flip side, I feel, is that every so often, out there, someone will perform some small gesture of kindness (I know, I know, I’m an advice columnist venturing into bumper-sticker territory, but nevertheless): let you in front of them in traffic; nod and smile in the street; stuff like that.

It can be very affirming and, uh, heartening. And to my way of thinking, no less than the way forward for us as a species. “Be nice,” in a nutshell. “And if you can’t be nice be kind.”

Also the way forward for you with your nasty neighbour. Kill her with kindness – kindness and compassion. If she flips out and calls the police or complains about you to your “strata president,” whatever that is, your attitude should be, basically:

“Oh that [her name here]. What a nut.” And go about your business. I think it’s definitely possible that, as a conflict-based organism, she will eventually tire of your Gandhi-esque “peace and prayer” type attitude and get someone else besides you and your son in her crosshairs.

Now, a slight codicil/caveat: I am taking your testimony at face value that she is the problem; and there’s no basis for her behaviour; and so on.

Because the way you casually mention your “strata president” (honestly, if any one of my beloved readers can tell me what that is I will personally send you a free toaster oven full of frozen pop tarts) had compassion for your neighbour makes me nervous maybe you glossed over some crucial detail of your story.

Like – hmm, I’m just guessing here – the part where you weren’t perfectly perfect your own self? Hmmmm?

Only you and the woman in the mirror and maybe your son and the guy in his mirror can possibly know that. Obviously, I, an advice columnist in a remote location (a fortified bunker somewhere in the foothills of the Ozarks), am not privy to such knowledge.

Don’t engage. Don’t take the bait. Non-bait-taking is a great spiritual virtue.

Pass her by, as you are already attempting to do, but maybe not with averted gaze – with a smile.

She no doubt has her own problems. They should be met with compassion.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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