astride the fence
An action this month, would have disturbed me as a young man, I’d have seen it as proof that I wasn’t being true to myself. In those days compromise was a sullied word, things were black&white, the grey area between ‘right and wrong’ was most of society’s terrain and that was what was wrong with the world. In my view, everyone would benefit from being more direct so that they knew where they stood.
People in England saw me as odd. At college, one of the tutors took me aside and explained that she knew I wasn’t arrogant, but that I had to tone down my directness, be ‘More English’. And so here we are this week, being just that. Our neighbours demanded we change our fence to suit them. You never tell neighbours how to erect fences, unless they’re too high. To put this into context, its unprecedented; several people, some with vast experience in the property world, have never heard of such a demand.
Rather than take umbrage, we listened. Our neighbours complained that they can see through our artistic fence, it makes them feel they are being gawped at. It’s an illusion. I could have said our eyes have more interesting things to do than squint hard into the light falling from the southern sky which even on a dull day won’t let you peer through our arty gaps to make out what’s inside their sky-reflecting windows. I could have retorted that they bought their house, whose low-lying position causes this problem. Neither did I say it’s their problem, they, not us, should throw money at it.
Instead, we made ourselves empathise. Feeling you have no privacy is not pleasant, especially when you’ve been used to living in a property with privacy, as they had before moving here. As we too had… They and we now live cheek-by-jowl in a large old property which was badly divided. They’ve got the larger house but the rotten deal, a sunken highly visible yard; we’ve got a garden floating high above the divided house. Years ago, when splitting up a large property, we walked around noting how it would feel inhabiting the part we were selling until we got it right. That’s not happened here, as usual, greed got in the way…..
There are fights to ignore. We said we’d adjust the fence to fit their demand. Since then they’ve been brighter with us, their cool demeanour has diminished; that shows it had really disturbed them.
At first, despite our politeness and smiles, giving-in made us both sweat with annoyance. After all, it is
not standing up to your rights. But in a flash, we’d seen that this was the way to go. OK, it’s a hassle, but it will make them happy and allow us to reside without trouble very close to these people who’ve shown no genuine interest in us for the years we have left to live.
There’s always two sides to every story. Their disregard of us may be to protect their psychological space…. The ability to slip into the other person’s position, to see how you’d feel, then look calmly without bias at the whole picture, enables you move smoothly forwards. As a young man, I didn’t understand the quiet pleasure and strange justice of such subtlety.