Know Your Neighbor

553. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

My inner sociologist awoke with a start. He is a sleepy fellow and enjoys his nap more than most folks. I was crossing the courtyard of the apartment complex next door; it has been my shortcut to the other side of the peninsula for more than a decade, a shortcut that I have taken 5 times a week, every week, for 10 years. I am on a first name basis with the caretaker of the property. Today, as I crossed the courtyard I passed a man on talking on a cell phone. He was angry and shouting at the person on the other end. As I passed he snapped shut his phone and called out to me, “Hey! Do you live here?” I stopped and told him I lived in the apartments next door. He responded, “You’re walking on our sidewalk!” That was the moment my inner sociologist woke up and rubbed his eyes, “Huh? Wha…?” His hair was a mess; nap head.

“These are our sidewalks!” the angry man sneered, “I live here. We have to protect our privacy.”

My inner sociologist rolled his eyes and said, “Why are test cases always so predictable.” I cautioned him to watch, to make no assumptions. I said to the angry man, “My name’s David. I’m your neighbor. I pass this way everyday.” My inner sociologist took out his notepad and a blunt pencil, grudgingly poised to write notes about the encounter.

The angry man opened his phone. He did not dial a number so my inner sociologist wrote, “Avoids eye contact.” While staring at his phone, Angry Man said, “We’ve had a rash of vandalism and have to know who’s on our property.”

I said, “Well, I’ll keep my eyes open for any suspicious characters.” My inner sociologist rolled his eyes and called me a manipulator, taking a note about my less-than-subtle status game.

Still staring at his phone, Angry Man repeated emphatically, “These are our sidewalks,” and turned his back and quickly walked away, disappearing around a corner.

My inner sociologist snapped closed his notepad and sighed with disgust, “You woke me up for this? Another angry person finding things to fear is not worthy of my study! You interrupted my nap for a game of guard-the-sidewalk!”

“It justifies his anger.” I said. “Guarding the sidewalk gives him a sense of power and purpose. Plus, didn’t you see how he used his phone as a place to disappear?” I asked. Isn’t that interesting to you?”

“Old News!” shouted my inner sociologist! “Blame and disappear, blame and disappear! Claiming territory that does not matter – it’s an old song and it bores me. Besides, who’s not hiding inside their technology these days?” he seethed, crawling back onto his couch, adjusting his pillow. “I find it depressing,” he sighed, closing his eyes.

“Well, I thought it was interesting precisely because it is so normal.” I said. “Isn’t his need to mark territory and defend it against his neighbor, me, a possible ally, a potential friend, isn’t that worth studying? Isn’t it worth talking about?” He was already snoring – or making snoring noises so I’d leave him alone. “Well, I think it’s interesting.” I said, slightly wounded, suddenly more aware of the sidewalk than I had been before meeting the Angry Man.

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