When “Love Thy Neighbor” Means Being Kind to Someone You’d Rather Duct Tape to an ICBM

To my knowledge, I’ve only had one neighbor that hated my guts.

And I hated her back.

My wife and I had just bought our first house, in Denver, a place where the cheapest houses aren’t very cheap. You’d think after paying all that $$ you’d at least get a decent neighbor.

On our first night, Elaine called my attention to the old, beat up, crappy van that was parked in full view of our living room window. Our neighbor parked it in front of our house because she didn’t want to look at it from her living room window.

She was older, super wealthy, apparently, and kept the old van for sentimental reasons. I never said anything about it – felt too weird to begin our relationship with a complaint.

That was the first of many annoyances.

At the time, I was attempting to start a church – something I would later learn I’m not very good at. I was stressed out most of the time and didn’t have much time for the people closest to me, much less a crazy neighbor.

Long story short, all the bad neighbor stuff she threw my way I returned in kind.

After a few years, things finally blew up.

My dog yipped a few times from our porch one evening and bad neighbor let me have it – she YELLED, standing in her yard, loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.

At this point, I wasn’t just fed up with her, I was fed up with feeling guilty about the way I typically responded to her crap. Here I was, a “pastor” constantly adding fuel to this horrible relationship.

Apologize

So I went to her house and knocked on the door.

It was the last place on earth I wanted to be.

And oh my God the look on her face when she opened the door. Death? Demons? She didn’t look like she wanted to kill somebody, she looked like she had freshly killed somebody. It was scary, especially for someone who has issues with female anger.

I asked why she was so mad at me and she ran down her list:

1. I frequently talked “boisterously” on my phone in the back yard
2. I got grass in her yard when I mowed mine
3. Barking dog
4. Our cat pooped in her flower bed on a daily basis
5. One time I cleaned the lawn mower and green water got on her sidewalk
6. Barking dog
7. Pooping cat

I can’t tell you how much I wanted to rifle back with my own list, it was far longer and much more impressive than hers.

But somehow I mustered the maturity/courage to aplogize, and promised to take care of everything on the list.

I will never forget how the countenance on her face changed in that moment. It was as if nobody had ever apologized to her before. And I can assure you that it had been a long time since I said “sorry” to anyone.

After that day, we became best friends. Tai Chi on Tuesdays, Scrapbooking together every Sunday morning…

Nah…

I can’t say that we ever had a great relationship, but it changed drastically that day, and she started parking the van out back. And all it took was a simple apology and a shock collar for the cat.

Respect

I will say this about my neighbor, and hang with me here, I don’t want you to miss my meaning.

She was an asshole.

And living next door to an asshole, and being one myself, has taught me a most important truth about assholes.

There’s not an asshole alive that wants to be an asshole.

And there’s one thing we all have in common – there have been multiple times in our lives where someone was an asshole to us. We’ve been disrespected, mistreated, handled poorly, shut down, etc.

That doesn’t give us persmission to be an asshole, but it does shed some light on why so many people are hard to get along with.

Assholery begets assholery.

So, if you live next door to an asshole, or if you work with one, or, if like my wife you’re married to one, assholing them back simply isn’t a good idea. At the least, it doesn’t fall under the category of “love thy neighbor.”

Kindness

One cannot become an asshole without being treated poorly by someone else. By default, one cannot stop being an asshole without another human being treating them with kindness.

Therapy won’t do it. You can’t think your way out of it. The only way out is kindness. People caused the problem, and it’s only through people that a solution can be found.

Kindness isn’t just a good thing, it has the power to heal, to undo all the crap that unkindness causes.

I know, retaliation feels good, and there are times when we need to call people out. But when we’re dealing with someone who’s really struggling, who’s clearly been mishandled by humanity, kindness is the only way to go.

And we all know, cheesy as this will sound, that kindness changes us too. The more we act like God, the more we wield His weapons, the more we become like Him, yada, yada, end of sermon, etc.

I’d love to end this post with something profound and moving, but I’m camping. It’s currently 27 degrees, and dropped down to 19 last night, and super windy.

I’m on my second cup of instant coffee, and slept narely a wink last night.

Peace out friends.

And please leave comments – good, bad, negative, whatever. I love it when y’all let me know what you’re thinking….

20 thoughts on “When “Love Thy Neighbor” Means Being Kind to Someone You’d Rather Duct Tape to an ICBM

  • I’ll try to keep a long story short since it’s just a comment, but…Had a neighbor with a very challenging wife who yelled at my daughter for parking on ‘their’ side of the street. So it began. I had to beg my mother-in-law who lives next door to walk away from her front door and not exit and keep her mouth shut. Fast forward and the couple split up, he married and became a dad. The first person he asked to be his childcare provider was yours truly. Shocked is not enough of a word for my reaction. But being kind is most definitely remembered and tallied up in the minds of people just as much as the wrongs. It just takes time to see the fruits in my opinion.

  • “And living next door to an asshole, and being one myself, has taught me a most important truth about assholes.

    There’s not an asshole alive that wants to be an asshole.” Love!

    This morning I made the intention to curb my assholian tendencies towards our teenagers. I will remind myself that they really do not want to be assholes.

  • I disagree with the sentence that no one wants to be an asshole. At my last house, the guy across the street was proud of the fact that he was an asshole, and he loved doing everything possible to annoy all the other people on the street. The guy was certifiable – and potentially dangerous. We finally just gave up and moved. We later learned that the guy is still being an asshole and other people are planning to move, too. Maybe he can get all his friends to move in, and they can be assholes to each other. So long as I’m no longer involved, that’s fine with me.

    • good point – one thought though; I think people like being an asshole the way people like doing drugs. It’s fun, feels good, but deep down nobody really wants it… ?

      • What Mark says is what I was just trying to say. Sure it feels good to be an asshole and to pull off some vicious act of malicious mischief. One feels gleeful, and prides oneself upon it. But how does one feel when the consequences come back to bite him in the butt? Same with drugs. I felt great when I was high on LSD being a radical rowdy rambunctious rapscallion. But how did I feel the next day? I doubt there is an asshole on Earth who enjoys being an asshole every day of the week.

  • “There’s not an asshole alive who wants to be an asshole.” Beautiful, Mark! I was just reading Proverbs 14 this morning (for some reason), and the Word lunged out at me around vv. 20-22. Especially v21. And then I see this! Re-posting on Twitter and Google Plus.

  • By the way, I would have only rifled off my longer. more impressive list. It is SO hard to turn the other cheek when you think (or ‘know’) that you’re ‘in the right.’ —

  • I agree with cordeliasmom that sometimes people like being a-holes. I have a neighbor like that too. I also agree with you that while it’s really difficult to go high when they go low, it’s usually easier on everyone.
    Our current POTUS is a great example of one who consistently goes low and likes being an a-hole. Our last POTUS is a great example of one who consistently goes high and is a model of class and decency as a result. Great post.

    • I disagree with Ilona and Cordelia. I’m an asshole myself sometimes, and while I may get a temporary rush out of being one, I deep down would much rather be a nice person. Whenever I’m an asshole, the consequences come back to bite me eventually. So I can’t say as I like it.

      For other assholes, I suppose, I cannot truly speak. I’m only inside the head of one of them — me.

  • Great post. I’ve had a lot of neighbors that were less than ideal, shall we say? Nothing builds resentment more surely than an inconsiderate neighbor. But now I’m thinking that maybe I unintentionally did things to them and bugged them and I didn’t even know it was happening. My current neighbors are the best I’ve ever had but then again, I live alone, have no pets and am rarely home. Anyway good for you for apologizing even though you hated doing it. The high road my not always get you where you want to be but it’s definitely less bumpy.

    • It is. It’s also the one that brings the most change that we’re all looking for, unfortunately… 🙂

  • The guy beneath me is an alcoholic, chain-smoking asshole, whom I will devote at least one chapter of my CLEvangelism memoir to. The day I moved in, he sat chain-smoking on his patio, wearing an ankle bracelet from the police department. His license had been revoked for DWIs, so the unemployed redneck sat beneath me for months, filling my place with so much smoke that people could smell it on my clothes and hair when I went somewhere.
    In time, he learned that I hate noise. So he made more. He hooked his TV up to a sound bar that created so much bass it sounded like I had hornets in my walls. He then bought a huge subwoofer and hooked his stereo up to that. Eventually, he bought a puppy off Craigslist and allowed it to yip loudly and constantly. The puppy continued to yip loudly and constantly when he left the apartment, so I called the police, who came to my door and said, “This is nuts!”
    When I told them about everything I’d been enduring and said I felt like I’d moved from Edgewater Drive — “Cleveland’s premier neighborhood,” according to signs at both ends — to a trailer park, they said that was “a fair assessment” and said they’d been here many times.
    Several months later, the guy told me his high school sweetheart-turned wife died from breast cancer decades ago, leaving him with two kids in his early 30s. They have disabilities and live with someone on the other side of town.
    I felt sorry for him until he showed me a guitar he bought from Craigslist “to get a rise out of” me. “I just don’t know how to play it,” he said.

    • Well – it *might* be that some people are so jaded or hardened that they want to be assholes. But I still think that readers here in general are not grasping the beautiful implications of Mark’s point. He writes “nobody wants to be an asshole” which to me opened up a profound new world, as I reviewed my own assholiness and found it wanting.

      Anyone can line up stories about *others* whom they perceive wish to remain assholes. But all of that information is perceptual — subjective. The question is; do YOU want to be an asshole?

      • I grasp what Mark said. That’s why I wrote what I wrote. I get that this guy has reasons (excuses) for his behavior. But he also prides himself on being an asshole and being the reason my apartment above his has had a revolving door since the day he moved in.
        I’ve been through a lot of shit — hence why I’m writing a memoir — and I’m still the nicest, kindest, most compassionate person you could meet — to a point — specifically, *this* point. We all go through things. It doesn’t give you the right to make other people’s lives a living hell.

  • I still think people in general are missing a beautiful point. It’s not about enumerating who the assholes are in our worlds. All of us could do that. I could easily cite assholes in my life who are every bit as much of an asshole as that guy. But what I got out of this is that *I* don’t want to be an asshole to anyone either — and yet I am. Matthew 7:3-5 comes to mind. That said, of course you have the right to draw the line where you have it drawn. We all have limits: Romans 12:18 was written for this reason. Good luck with your memoirs, and God bless.

  • HOWLING. I am howling with laughter. Ok, that’s a lie…I’m sitting in a crowded coffee shop. But I’m howling on the inside, let me tell you. SOOOOOO funny (and sooooo relatable).
    Also, I think the word you’re looking for is nary…although, I do believe that as bloggers we should be allowed to make up words, and mashing nary with barely is an accurate description of how much I’d sleep in that kind of weather. (Proofreading your writing probably makes me a grammasshole…) 😉

    • Ha – so meant to say nary. I was in a tent in 23 degree weather cursing the howling, tent smacking wind when I wrote this. Then I hiked to a 100 year old log cabin with wifi to hit “publish.” Agreed that you’re a grammasshole, but we need more of you in the world 🙂

      • Wow, ok, your brain was frozen. I think that’s a legitimate excuse. You are definitely braver than I am. I prefer camping in 60 degree temps (F, not C, ha). Seriously, I really love your writing.

  • Wanted to clarify something about people who “don’t want to be an asshole.” It’s helpful for me to have compassion on people who are acting poorly, or who’ve hurt me on some level. It’s a ton easier to forgive them if I see them as a “victim” of sorts. Does that make sense? A.P. and CLevangelism, would love to get your perspective on this

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