Love thy neighbour?

Published: Sun, 04/03/22

A neighbour has been building a small extension to his kitchen, single storey and probably not more than three metres square. The brickwork was completed a couple of months ago and I was wondering what the hold up completion of the project. None of my business, but because of my work I cannot help noticing such things. Then some planning notices appeared on our nearby lamp posts. Number 27 had applied for retrospective planning permission for a single storey extension to the side of his kitchen. Somehow the council had noticed the building work and was not prepared for the project to proceed to completion without full planning permission being granted.

Many years ago I was staying with some people in the USA. It was a lovely warm sunny day with a pleasant breeze and the lady of the house was stuffing the laundry into a tumble dryer. I can see the point of using an electric clothes dryer in the winter or in wet weather, although i have never owned one myself. However, on a day when the sun would dry the clothes in an hour using a tumble dryer seems like a bit of a waste of energy. I asked my hostess why she didn’t just hang the clothes on a line and save the electricity. I was told that the zoning regulations which applied to that particular estate forbid the hanging out of washing to dry? Why? Your guess is a good as mine, perhaps washing lines just look untidy to some people, but whatever the reason no one seemed to be willing to break the rule.

It used to be a standard thing to have a bonfire to get rid of garden waste which would not easily compost. Burning dry sticks after sunset having checked that there was no washing hanging out in nearby gardens was generally considered acceptable. However, all too often rubbish such as plastics would be left smoldering into the morning with a stink that seemed to permeate the whole neighbourhood. Now we are expected to recycle household waste, including garden waste and plastics, and apart from perhaps on the 5th of November, or for a barbecue, garden fires are effectively forbidden. I could also add that rules on what kind of solid fuel you can burn in fire places and stoves if you home is in a built up area have been enforced since the 1950s in the UK.

Some years ago I attended a weekend seminar Marc McYoung, a martial arts teacher who has a very practical approach to teaching self-defence. A theme that was fashionable at the time was ‘pre-fight’ indicators, or, how can you know if someone is about to hit you? According to Mr McYoung the best indicator is that you are acting like an ‘Ass hole’ to use that delightful American expression. Violence very rarely comes directly out of the blue with no warning, usually there are lots of indicators that someone is getting annoyed with you and there will be requests to change your attitude along with warnings of consequences. To finally be attacked you generally have to work pretty hard at provoking physical violence.

You can take the attitude that it is your ‘right’ to do what you like on your own property, say whatever you like regardless of how offensive others might find it, express yourself with no concern for etiquette or customary norms of behavior. You may believe that you can stand by your rights and everyone else just has to suck up the consequences. Believe in your rights before all else if you like, but life might get rather unpleasant, for you and for your neighbours.

In the real world we get along with our community by paying attention to the way others are responding to us. Observing basic rules and customs, and being willing to apologise and change our behaviour when someone else is getting upset about something we are doing. I have given examples above relating to living in an urban area, but the same principles apply in, say, farming communities where not allowing your animals to trample a neighbour’s crops, or taking care not to contaminate a communal water supply would be considered normal and considerate behaviour.

Does the same principle apply to countries and nations? Of course it does, why do you think countries have embassies, ambassadors and diplomatic staff, international trade agreements, alliances, and organisations such as the UN? There is always scope for conflict, disagreement, and even violence whether is is neighbors disputing a parking space, or the position of a border between two countries. The important issue is how the conflict is resolved. Governments usually resolve international disputes, by listening to the other side, taking their concerns seriously, and being willing to negotiate a peaceful outcome. Just as your neighbours do. Escalating a situation to the point where violence results actually takes a bad attitude and a lot of sustained effort to aggravate the situation.

And having created a situation which has resulted in violence? Well, you can play the victim and expect others to condemn your attacker and punish them in some way. Or you can examine your own behaviour and accept that you ignored the signs and warnings that there would be consequences if you didn’t change your ways. We all make mistakes, the question is whether or not we can learn from them, whether as countries or individuals.



PS The principles of getting along with neighbours may be the same whether it is individuals and households, or nations of millions of people. However, the consequences of conflict can be very different, this TED talk is a reminder of how serious the consequences of international conflict could be As John Lennon suggested, give peace a chance.

PPS On the 19th of March we held a spring equinox ritual at Silver Wood in Lincolnshire. It was a lovely occasion and the early signs of spring were everywhere. The name of the site relates to the silver birches which make up many of the trees in the wood, and true to the rune rhyme they were showing signs of being the ‘greenest of trees in spring time’. By the weekend after Easter (23rd and 24th April) the wood will be green and rapidly coming back to life after the winter. So why not join us for the Beltane retreat? I will do a couple of workshops as well a teaching Stav to whoever wants it. Let me know if you are interested and I will give you the information you need to sign up.