Linda Lewis Griffith

Neighbors getting under your skin? Here are 8 ways to ease the tension

Neighborhood conflicts create needless levels of stress and seldom resolve themselves, according to retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith. She recommends addressing problems with respect and civility.
Neighborhood conflicts create needless levels of stress and seldom resolve themselves, according to retired San Luis Obispo therapist Linda Lewis Griffith. She recommends addressing problems with respect and civility. San Jose Mercury News

The creation of the Anholm Bikeway Plan sparked bitter debate in San Luis Obispo.

Caustic editorials about the plan, which will add protected bike lines between downtown and Foothill Boulevard, appeared in local newspapers. Neighbors took stands against neighbors.

Vice Mayor Carlyn Christianson called it “the most contentious, difficult issue that I’ve ever dealt with.”

It’s gut-wrenching to be at loggerheads with the folks on your street. After all, neighbors are supposed to be the people we wave to on the sidewalk. Our kids should walk together to school, and we know when one of them has had surgery or a new grandbaby. They literally touch all aspects of our lives.

Many of us even buy our homes based on what we hear about the neighbors. Learning that one street has an annual block party or goes all out for Halloween can be the reason we choose one address over another.

Of course, disagreement is nothing new. As long as people have held viewpoints, they’ve felt that others were wrong.

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But neighborhood conflicts have an impact all their own.

For instance, they’re impossible to escape. The problems resurface each time you turn onto your block. Offending parties are always within view. There’s an element of feeling trapped.

Neighborhood conflicts create needless levels of stress. Wincing when you drive by a disagreeable person, or ignoring her as she walks her dog, elicits negativity that takes a physical and emotional toll.

Neighborhood conflicts seldom resolve themselves. People are unlikely to move away, and they probably won’t change their views.

Therefore, it’s up to the neighbors themselves to improve morale. Their well-being hangs in the balance.

How to make peace in your neighborhood

Address problems with respect and civility. Stay calm and focus on a resolution to the issue at hand. Never resort to name-calling, foul language or retaliation.

Expand your relationship beyond the problem in question. Discuss joint hobbies or each other’s children. Even if you don’t share any interests, try to learn about who your neighbors are.

Know that you share common goals. You want to live peaceably and safely in your homes. You also want your opinions to be respected and heard.

Never try to change another’s viewpoint. You may feel strongly about your belief system, but not everyone has to agree.

Be the neighbor you’d like others to be. Speak pleasantly to everyone, welcome newcomers and never bring up loaded topics such as politics or religion.

Assume the moral high ground. If neighbors insist on being surly or argumentative, refuse to take the bait. Calmly disengage or change the subject. If necessary, recuse yourself from the conversation.

Host a neighborhood gathering. Potlucks and block parties are a great way to bring folks together. If necessary, declare the site a “conflict-free zone” and encourage others to follow suit.

Don’t hold grudges. You never know how people will change, and hard feelings scab over with time. Be willing to bury the hatchet if someone extends an olive branch or asks for forgiveness.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a retired marriage, family and child therapist who lives in San Luis Obispo. Reach her at lindalewisgriffith@sbcglobal.net.
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