It takes two to make amends

When one neighbor offends another is it possible to rebuild a relationship?

Our elder suggests taking that first step to find out.

Dear EWC:

I have a neighbor who has addressed me in the past with ethnic and sexual slurs. She did this over relatively minor issues, like parking spaces or leaves falling off my tree and into her yard. I wrote her out of my life early on and tried to avoid her, because I found the behavior unforgivable.

She nonetheless on occasion tries to communicate with me or to act like nothing happened; she will deliver Christmas cookies, or approach me in the street and begin talking, etc. I am unresponsive to these overtures when they occur. I believe there is a point beyond which there is no return, and she crossed it. It is no loss to me to avoid contact with this person.

Am I wrong in not allowing her to make amends? If I allow it, am I not just setting myself up for more abuse? She has exhibited this behavior on more than one occasion.

Mr.Bill replies:

Thanks for writing to us and sharing this story about your neighbor’s inexcusable behavior. I don’t blame you for not wanting anything to do with her. You ask if you are wrong in not allowing her to make amends and are concerned that if you do, you might be setting yourself up for more abuse. Here are my thoughts on that.
I do not think you are wrong in being indifferent and unresponsive to her communications and other overtures if her comments are insulting and insensitive, at best. My question, and perhaps my answer to your question is—have you talked with her about her abusive slurs? Have you pointed out to her that you are insulted and you think that she is out of line when she uses ethnic or sexual slurs? If not, are you willing to do that? If you are, then…

Tell her that you notice that she has attempted to talk with you and that you appreciate her overtures like cookies at Christmas. You might even mention that you have not responded or reciprocated and that she has probably noticed your indifferent reactions. Then, give her examples of things she has said to you that are offensive. Tell her that she has done this several times and you really don’t like it. You’d like to have a neighborly relationship, but that sometimes she says things that get in the way.

If you do that, and if she responds with an apology and a promise to not do it again, then maybe there is a chance to at least be more objective neighbors. Tell her that you appreciate it and will remind her if anything additional happens. And if it does, do remind her that what she just said is the kind of thing you were talking about. Who knows, maybe she wants to be better.
On the other hand, if she does not respond positively, if she responds with indignation and brushes off your concern, she may not bother you again which will solve your problem, if not the bigger issue of her saying those things at all. To anyone.

So, no, I don’t think you are wrong. If she is insulting and you don’t want a relationship with her, continue to be indifferent and unresponsive. Or, if you are willing to talk with her at all, and as she continues to talk with you, you might consider explaining your point of view to her and observing her reactions. She might make amends in appropriate ways, ways that you can accept and move on, or she might be insulted and never bother you again.

I’d be very interested in what you think. Also, I’d be interested in knowing what you decide to do, if anything. I’ll be thinking about you and in the context of current events, I’ll be thinking of your neighbor, too. And hoping things can and will change.
Good luck.


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