“Did you see him?” asked my neighbor, as we were engaged in one of our regular chats along the property line.
“No, I was in the back, but I heard the blower going,” I said. “Was he doing it again?” I asked, knowing where Nick was going with his question.
“Yeah, I can’t believe it. He blows his leaves and stuff into the middle of the street, and then the wind blows some of it over here. It just drives me crazy,” he said.
“I don’t know why,” I responded, “but it just doesn’t bother me. I kind of find it amusing more than anything else.”
“Let me ask you something, Nick,” I went on, unable to restrain my curiosity, “If you lived in my house (which is right across the street from the offending neighbor, as opposed to diagonal) would you say something to him?”
“Oh, I’d have to,” Nick replied, “That’s one of those things that just drives me crazy.”
Now, let me first make the point I am by no means immune to being ruffled by things far more trivial than the above described situation. But it is interesting to see someone so irritated by that which we find unimportant, for this gives us a window into our own tolerance for “pet peeves,” a tolerance which we should be ever seeking to increase.
And the way we can increase it is by giving those who offend our delicate sensibilities the benefit of the doubt. Seneca says it more eloquently in describing the wise man’s attitude toward such “injuries”:
“ … he makes light of all mishaps by interpreting them in a generous way. He does not remember an injury rather than a service. As far as possible, he lets his memory rest upon the earlier and the better deed, never changing his attitude towards those who have deserved well of him … Just as a defendant is acquitted when the votes are equal, the spirit of kindliness always tries to bend every doubtful case toward the better interpretation … ”
In our work communications, there is a tendency to read those from individuals with whom we have a strained relationships in the most unfavorable of tones, regardless of the spirit in which they were crafted. In short, when there is room for latitude in interpretation, we rarely give the suggested benefit. To combat this, when things are going south, get off the keyboard and get on the phone (or better yet, get face to face). Taking this step will help prevent, or reverse, the downward spiral that these situations tend to take on: I am offended by something someone has done, I read their emails in a negative tone, I reply in an abrupt manner or, worse, not at all.
As much as possible, assume those with whom we are about to take offense have committed their crime with no intent, unless there is simply no other way to explain their actions. Taking the approach that only the most grievous of slights requires redress will save us so much time and energy which could be put to better use.
For now, for my part, I’ll choose to believe my across-the-street neighbor thinks what he’s doing is ok, rather than trying to be sneaky. He’s from Germany; perhaps this is a European custom I’m not acquainted with. As least for now, I’m going to consider the votes against him equal (guilty from Nick, not guilty from me) and choose to acquit.