The other day my roomies and I received an email from our landlord saying that the neighborhood association we live in received “several complaints” that our lawn was overgrown. My first reaction was that our lawn has looked much worse without a notice, and that half of our lawn was still parched and short from the drought we incurred this past summer. My second reaction however, was that this seemed to be a tool of passive aggressiveness for our neighbors. Wouldn’t we rather have had someone walk up to the house or leave us a personal letter, since they obviously live close by, than get a formal violation notice? It seems that all methods of interacting in modern society are becoming diminished or disappearing altogether.
Growing up with a dad that adores the great outdoors and his freedom to put his fishing boat wherever he wanted, I had never lived in a neighborhood association before I moved out of my parents’ for college. My mom tried to show my dad houses in neighborhoods to live in when we moved to Columbia back in 1999, but he gave a resounding disapproval every time, because of the horror stories he’s heard about neighborhood associations. Everything from legal threats regarding leaving your garage door open to bitter tension due to the number of times your dog barks. As a dog family with a head of the house who immensely enjoyed hunting, fishing, and all of the gadgets that go with it, there would be no question that we would be the unpopular ones in the neighborhood.
But why is it that having your Christmas lights up past New Year’s Day causes people get to the point of anger and frustration where they completely shut down traditional standards of communication? There are ways of being polite and dare I say neighborly (I dare) when asking someone to either shut their dog up or mow their lawn. But since the invention of the T.V. (yes, I know it gets blamed for everything) people have retreated into their homes, and have closed off their opportunities for meeting and becoming friends with new people. This isolationist attitude has made the once friendly neighborhood manners into more of a battle over property lines. Instead of asking people over for dinner sometime, neighbors stare with twitching eyes at the yards around them and wonder how long they can tolerate someone’s grass length, which is undoubtedly a result of their innate laziness.
With the isolation comes more assumptions, since no one is actually getting to know anyone, they’re left with blank slates when looking at a neighbor’s face. As psychology has told us, if we don’t identify with another, we’re more likely to attribute their flaws to an inner lacking, rather than to circumstantial or environmental causes. One hears a dog barking and they think the owner is too lazy or stupid to know how to train them. Another sees a large satellite dish on the top of their house and thinks they’re only good for watching T.V. and are unreasonably tacky or culturally unseasoned. These assumptions get more ingrained in people’s minds the more they stare at what bothers them. And as with suburban dwellers, they often take the same route to work everyday, past the same house on the corner that doesn’t seem to own a lawn mower.
So instead of a polite letter or discussion between two decent and reasonable human beings, we have threatening legal letters and passive aggressive signs left by piles of dog dookie telling their owner to pick it up pronto. (I have witnessed this in my current neighborhood several times.) This separation from other people lets out our ugly side. Which makes sense, because if they don’t personally witness you complaining, you can be however nasty as you want. The repercussions in the form of awkward discussions or ostracizing behavior from other neighbors kept people in check when they went to discuss problems with other human beings. Basically, we’re all cowards. Most of us don’t have the cajones to be a complete bitch in person. Our palms sweat, our eyes get shifty, we lose our confidence, and we can’t hold their gaze, all because when the bitch bomb you brought over drops, you see the reaction and suffer the consequences immediately. I call this the “Say It To My Face” Principle. Like I said, most of us find in-person confrontation to be nerve-wracking. But if the bitch bomb is dropped from say, an airplane, where the consequences are not immediately or ever experienced by you, it makes it a lot easier to say, “Hasta la vista, baby.”
How can this problem be solved, you ask? I personally think we should all put 20-foot tall fences around our residences and station artillery and other assorted weaponry around the perimeter for defensive purposes. (Or for an instance in which you just don’t like a bitch.) But this solution is not feasible for the long term. This trend toward solitude is amplifying in our younger generation. We now have many more gadgets to distract ourselves with. Instead of sitting and talking with a friend at lunch, each person browses the web, or sends texts to someone else on their phone, completely ignoring the present that they currently occupy. More and more people talk through short blurbs on Facebook and Twitter rather than have meaningful, lengthy conversations. So what the solution would be, by general logic, would be to reverse these trends. Communicate more in person, or at least on the phone, but only when you’re not enjoying another moment in the presence of a real live human being. Reach out to people that are unknown to you, strike up a conversation and get to know them. It’s much more rewarding than looking at their Facebook profile.
Us humans have quirks and body language, and all kinds of other tell-tale signs that map out our personality for others to see. All of these things are witnessed in-person, and pack much more impact than tweeting about what made us laugh that particular day. Just being open to meeting people and trying to understand who they are will help curb this segregation epidemic we have on our hands. So let me start by saying, Hai-lo, my name is Katie and I realize the irony in my typing this on a blog. Don’t be shy and say hey to me sometime, if you have the cajones.