Several years ago when we were building our house we made an enemy out of our neighbor across the street. It wasn’t intentional, it was just circumstance. Our property had belonged to her in-laws and on it sat the local swimming hole her son and other kids from the neighborhood called their own. She did not take it very well when we told the kids they could no longer play and swim freely on our property even though we had perfectly legitimate and understandable reasons. These particular neighbors were not very well off, and although we weren’t either we had far more than they did. I think the list of their resentments ran long and deep.
The first few years with an angry, chemically enhanced neighbor were touch and go. We learned to ignore the tirades, and the fact our street was a regular beat for the county law enforcement. Eventually the problem resolved itself and through the course of an ironic turn of events the neighbors dispersed and the house burned down. The neighbor’s brother now owns the land, and he scraped the burnt ruins into a heap of charred rubble. In doing so he unearthed long forgotten flower bulbs which have now jumped back to life and returned a little beauty to the place scarred by neglect and foul tempers.
I took a walk there one day and stepped onto the empty lot to admire the flowers. Standing in the space once occupied by the front door I looked towards my house and was reminded of a line in one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus teaches his daughter, Scout, a lesson in tolerance. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
This lesson was driven home to me recently at work as well. I knew a person who built tension between him and everyone he encountered. He was quick to lodge allegations of mistreatment against anyone who did not agree with him. I have since learned he had a traumatic childhood and his attitude is most likely a defense system he has levied to protect himself against hurt and disappointment. He doesn’t understand his mode of defense is offensive to others, thereby creating a viscous circle of discontent among everyone involved. Now I can see from his point of view. It doesn’t make his manner more appealing, but knowing the situation maybe I can change my attitude towards him for the better and try to put a nick in the cycle.
I know I am often guilty of jumping to conclusions about one’s character, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to view things from many sides to draw a better understanding of their point of view. Even though I may not agree with it, I still try to understand it.
You never know what kind of burden the person next to you is carrying in their heart. The ones with the heaviest hearts are the least likely to scream tirades at their neighbor or act belligerently to get their way. No, they are the ones most likely to smile and keep walking. So before you make a hasty judgement take a figurative stance on Boo Radley’s porch and look at your own house. If you see a lot of windows be careful with the rocks you may be tempted to throw at it.