If everybody knew what would happen next, there would be no story
When dealing with my neighbors I constantly try to watch for the broader context: the growing city; the balance between space and purpose; human needs as a guiding thread in public space. Taking the time to consider the threads that guide us as a society is always a challenge. There is no promise for reward in patience.
Whether I live forever or die while writing these words, my body is consumed in time. So as much time is required to get to something in life, it’s never a waste. This story is about time and about choices. I realized one day that I like people. I like people and I don’t always get along well with some. When dealing with my rowdy neighbors, I never knew ahead of time, where things would go.
My sleep is pretty light. But even so, my neighbors’ idea of chill is having middle of the night gatherings. Getting back to sleep requires something to happen. Either the noise stops, or I invest resources in managing to sleep. Even with ear plugs, their noise is still there, hitting my eardrums. In front of me lies the core of understanding why humanity developed industries around war.
One society wants something that conflicts with the interests of the other. The moment violence enters the scene, there’s war. Our desires happen to occur at the same time. I have a measly Noise Control bylaw in my support. My neighbors…, well, they have all sort of arguments.
In the first days of the March 2020 lockdown, they moved to the ground floor of the house beside us. After a short while, a rowdy party woke us up late-late one night. It wasn’t the first noise coming from their direction but it was definitely more extreme. A few hour later, at the end of my morning run I noticed a guy behind the open window. I approached him, and described the night’s situation from our side. His apologies were immediate and whole hearted. “Sorry, my bad. It was my birthday. We won’t do that a lot.”
In those days I was a volunteering member of an Advisory Committee in the City of Vancouver. Our final meeting in December 2020 dissolved in explosion over conflict between two members.
From the high expectations of the advisory committee, I returned to the low-key conflict in my own backyard. It continued to engage me in thought, planning and action. The conflict I was trying to resolve looked deceptively simple: I wanted to sleep; my neighbors wanted to chill.
The disturbances continued to be occasional up to a point where they started to become routine. My neighbors always seemed to me like having an innate sense of honesty. They just wanted to chill. They are young, for most of them this is their first time living away from their parents.
I was their age at one point in my life. The apartment I rented with my brother was half a floor above the neighbor opposite us in the building. One afternoon she politely knocked on our door. She asked us to lower the volume of our music. The last thing we wanted to do was acknowledge how loud we played our music.
Neighbors can be such a pain! I realized that for mine, I am now the pain. They’re working to make a living and in between are enrolled in some type of higher education. Their opportunities to chill are limited. And besides, I was the only neighbor that complained.
Our houses are three meters apart. A week after my first call to the police they were partying again. I knocked on their door, this time employing my inner yogi. I was invited in and engaged with my neighbors in a friendly chat. They promised to try and keep their noise down. I managed to insist – with a smile – that they need to do better than try.
I kept thinking of the facilitator in a workshop I took in 2019. In the time of the Argentinian mess of the seventies he was a young rebel. Among other forms of resistance and defiance against the oppressive regime his group engaged in disruptions of the government TV broadcasts. For home dwellers those disruptions were a nuisance. Eventually he was caught and put in jail. After two years in torturous conditions, he was released and brought to Canada.
Oddly enough, my neighbors, in my view, exhibit resistance and defiance that are on the verge of admirable. I’m not enjoying it myself, but they seem to have taken their interests and needs into a matter of principle. I am still baffled by what they are trying to achieve in protecting their questionable right.
My approach to them revealed a bunch of young guys in varying degrees of being drunk and stoned. This made me sad, more than anything else. Here I am, at the frontline of an opportunity to communicate a message and it has nowhere to go. Their message too, does not resonate with me.
I could hear some of their chats through the closed window. “But he hasn’t done anything to us.” one of them exclaimed in frustration. Then another voice responded with authority “Kill them with kindness” he said. “We will keep on pressing until he reacts. Then we will have a case against him.”
My urge to burn and kill immediately ignited. But in my life, it was always an urge I was aware of. The moment violence enters the scene, history becomes a story that every side tells from their own perspective. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. In violence everyone is right and all are wrong.
We are not the only people dealing with pesky neighbors. What is the individual response to conflict and how does this influence our approach to social justice, or to our political world? Do I even have influence over anyone? My opportunity is to balance my influence with responsibility. The challenge? Missing out on both fronts…
What intrigues me the most is the ongoing paradox we all live in.
In 1989 I was a design student. My instructor was a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. Back in 1982, the first Lebanon war, he was sent to drop bombs on a terrorist infested village. On his way to the target, he recognized that the building he was sent to demolish was no doubt a school. He turned away and dropped the bombs into the Mediterranean.
“A city is not buildings alone. In its deepest meaning, it is a reflection of culture. People were not born with cities around them. Humans gathered and evolved and set up rules, for how to live together and how not to live, how to build and how not to build.” My instructor kept these words close to his heart. They were written by one of his dear colleagues.
Time has its pace: A Lebanese boy, who witnessed my instructor’s veering aircraft in 1982, grew up to become an artist. In 2012, he exhibited in the Venice Biennale. The title of his work was “Letter to a refusing pilot”.
What future my neighbors and I are heading into is a story that will unfold whether I die while writing these words or live forever.