I just encountered a negative interaction with a neighbor, one with whom we don’t have much of a relationship, yet we share a fence. The whole thing leaves me unsettled and unhappy. I’m trying to learn and glean wisdom from the experience, so I’ve noted a few things.
1. When you yell at my kids instead of first treating them like respectable humans, I start out on the defensive. They’re kids. They were clearly doing something they should not do (throwing stones at the fence, which her dogs did not enjoy), yet raising your voice beyond being heard seems a bit over the top. I’m fine with other adults reprimanding my children (well, from a theoretical standpoint. From an honest standpoint, I feel like a bad mom when my kids do things they shouldn’t, but that’s my own separate issue). I don’t take issue with a person telling them what is correct or incorrect behavior. I just don’t like them yelling at them when no one is in grave danger.
2. Though I have come a long way in trying to treat people with respect, starting with an assumption that they’re overall good or trying for good, not everyone is as far in that journey. Quite honestly, that’s hard for me. Who knows where this person comes from or how her experiences that taught her that kids who misbehave are automatically brats. But, it’s still hard for me to accept without a scowl on my face.
3. When you come knocking on my door, it’s probably best to cool down first. I’m already on the defensive and now I have to work extra, extra hard to be sympathetic to your case and not just nod and close the door. Extra hard. Because I do need to listen to you. My kids did something they shouldn’t. I need to hear that and address it. But your anger makes me want to simply write you off.
4. Threatening language only escalates the situation. Phrases like “if that happens, it’s not my fault” only cause division and do nothing to create resolution. Perhaps start with I really don’t want your kids to get bit.
5. Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. I don’t want to have this conversation with my kids. I don’t want to sit them down and stand up for someone who was 10 degrees short of cordial with me. I don’t want to make her right when she acted so childishly wrong. But I have to. We have to sit down and write the apology. We have to walk down the street and look her in the eye. We have to do the hard things, the right things, even when others don’t. I don’t like that.
Jesus was serious about this whole love thy neighbor thing, and he meant the ones that we don’t like. The Message puts it like this in Matthew’s neighboring section of chapter 5:
If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.
More than learning not to throw rocks, I want my kids to learn this. (Because if they learn this, they won’t throw rocks, right?) I want them to learn what it means to have a posture of love and respect toward God’s creation – people, places and things – even when perhaps we interpret that those things don’t “deserve” it. Sometimes, neither do we.