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Boiling Points (#405)
Why small annoyances turn into massive blowups--and how to avoid those eruptions
My family used to live in a neighborhood where six different homes had backyards that abutted each other. Our yards joined together like a big open field, with no fences. Though the property boundaries had no physical markers, they were clearly understood by all. This was most apparent when people mowed their lawns.
We never had any issue with these close quarters until a new family moved into a nearby house. This was not part of this group of homes with the shared backyard space; their house was adjacent, and their yard was separated from ours by a small, wooded area and a fence.
We met these neighbors for the first time as they walked through our collective backyards and inquired how the “field” worked. I explained that the “field” was actually a bunch of personal backyards joined together.
Our swing set/jungle gym was located near the back of our property line, as that was where our land was flattest, and it was close to the fence where our new neighbors lived. The family had small kids as well, and on a few occasions when we were using the swing set and they were in the “field” we invited them to use it.
However, soon those neighbors were using it pretty regularly and in ways that seemed devoid of social awareness, such as when we were eating with friends on our deck. They even offered to fill the sandbox with new sand, which I declined as I did not want to take on the liability or expectation that this was communal property.
I wanted to say something, but I was simply unsure how to bring up the conversation without making things awkward.
Soon however, things came to a head.
One afternoon, we returned home to find what was essentially a kids birthday party hosted in our backyard. There were multiple kids on the swing set, older kids riding dirt bikes on my lawn and a group of kids and adults hanging out in our backyard, and that of our neighbors, as if it was a public park.
I could not believe what I was seeing and lost my temper. I found myself screaming at the parents in front of all their friends, asking them what could have possibly made them think it was okay to host people in someone else’s backyard, especially without asking first.
Though I felt my neighbors’ actions were an egregious violation of basic social norms, I’ll admit this was not my finest moment.
Later that night, the couple came to my front door to apologize. They were pretty shocked at my level of discontent, and after I explained my feelings about their actions that day, and in the weeks leading up to it, I think they had a very different perception of our relationship and its boundaries. We never really spoke again.
I share this story because it’s an example of a common pattern and theme.
Often, we avoid addressing problems or things that bother us in our personal and professional lives. We think it is easier to just live with mild frustration, rather than having a difficult conversation or an awkward discussion.
The problem is that when we avoid addressing issues, however minor they may seem, the feelings linger, and the frustrations accumulate gradually and almost always result in an eruption at an unexpected time. The ensuing outburst then reveals all the accumulated anger or hurt. This then results in a far more uncomfortable conversation than the one we’d been avoiding in the first place.
It is a natural human inclination to seek harmony and avoid disrupting peace. However, it is essential to recognize that true harmony arises from understanding and clear communication, not from the absence of confrontation. Addressing problems promptly and with candor not only can prevent a boiling point moment, but it also strengthens our relationships and builds trust.
Where in your life might there be lines that need drawing, or conversations that must be initiated?
Quote of The Week
"Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret." - Ambrose Bierce
Have a great weekend!
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