"Good fences make good neighbors." -- Robert Frost, Mending Wall
All Daren Wood wanted to do was build a house. That was all it took to start a neighborhood feud that has lasted a year and is now receiving national media attention.
According to media reports, the story goes like this: last year Wood purchased a lot that had a small hill. To make room for the house, the hill was carved out within inches of the neighbors' property line. Neighbors became worried that the excavation could possibly ruin their foundation and asked the city to intervene. Wood was then required to test the soil -- something Wood claimed the previous owner had already done. Those tests delayed construction on Wood's home by four months and cost him $3,000.
The fighting didn't end there. After the frame of Wood's house was completed, neighbors were upset that their view of the mountains was blocked. They went to the city to see if Wood's house violated any zoning ordinances. In response, Wood erected some vents on the back of his house that he calls a cactus. Neighbors claim the image is of a hand giving them the bird (to see a picture of these vents, click here) and have gone back to the city to see if the vents violate any obscenity laws.
The whole incident reminds me of school kids fighting on the playground. Child A doesn't like what Child B is doing and runs off to tell the teacher. Child B continues such behavior and Child A goes in search of the teacher again. Child B calls Child A names and the incident escalates.
You'd think that adults would learn to act like, well, adults. But civilized behavior and problem solving is often too much for us busy grown-ups to engage in. If you don't like what the neighbor is doing with his property, call the government and complain. Upset at your neighbor's behavior? Send them an offensive message. It's all about being a victim.
There are ways to solve problems that don't involve the city enforcing zoning laws or deciding what is or is not obscene. If Wood's neighbors were thinking like producers when Wood began his excavation, they might have offered to help pay for the soil tests or explore alternatives that might possibly shorten the construction delays. Such actions would be in the best interests of everyone involved by giving the neighbors a chance to show that they were just as concerned about Wood's home as they were about theirs.
At first I felt sorry for Wood. He bought a lot with plans to build a house and apparently has complied with the numerous zoning and building requirements. It's his property and he can do with it as he pleases. Yet any sympathy I had for Wood and the infringements on his private property rights went out the door with the construction of his vents. He may call the shape a cactus but its real message is obvious. Apparently in that Riverton neighborhood immature behavior can be found on both sides of the fence.
A few homes may have lost their view of the mountains but the entire neighborhood has lost much more: civility and peace. So long as Wood and his neighbors remain in their homes, the tension will always be there.
Though it's tempting to laugh at Wood and his neighbor's immature behavior, it's sad when one thinks about the examples which are being set for any children they might have. If mom and dad can't engage in rational behavior with neighbors, what behavior can we expect from their offspring?
Sometimes loving our neighbors means taking the high road. It's not making the rude gesture to the person who cut us off in traffic. It's holding your tongue when someone makes a snide comment about us or not clicking the reply button to an intentionally hurtful email. Sometimes it's about realizing there are more important things in life than a view of the mountains. Having good relationships with our neighbors creates more value than having our worst enemies in our own backyard.
Frost's poem "Mending Wall" gives us a good model to follow:
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
We all share a common humanity. It's too bad there are many who don't understand what this means.