Alan Duff: Disputes bring out beast in all of us

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Fewer neighbours might feud if selfishness counted in court .
Photo / iStock
Photo / iStock

The man who built what I'd describe as a hideously obstructive wall, completely blocking his neighbour's panoramic view of Wellington harbour, that he called a "fort" for kids, has been ordered by the courts to remove it.

It seemed most of the country cheered for the elderly couple whose quality of life his act so badly affected. Reading the bloke's comments, it's my opinion that he did it because he could: I reckon he didn't care about the effect on his neighbours.

Being a bit more of the reactionary type, I would have taken a chainsaw to a chunk of wall. You can always build another 5m if the court orders.

I'd have done it just for the pleasure of seeing the neighbour's irate face in the gap. It might have "accidentally" gone up in flames from a "fireworks" night. If someone sets the rules as what I'd call dirty, then dirty they are.

Disputes between neighbours bring out the worst in people - like divorces often do. Or money.

I know someone who ended an argument by setting fire to several hundred dollars of disputed cash. "Now we don't have anything to argue about," he said.

Humans get indignant, outraged, mortally offended.

And all sides are self-justifying and more often than not self-righteous. That's when opposing narratives start to build.

Years ago, a massive gum tree on a neighbour's property shaded ours and, leaning our way - should it have suddenly come down, as eucalyptus can - seemed to us a danger along with blocking our sunlight.

As events would have it, we were putting an addition on our house, next door was available to rent and on the market for sale. Perfectly convenient for all except that offending tree. Oh, and the future buyer.

I thought, better get in fast. On day two I called a professional in to cut it down. A couple of months passed, our addition finished, the rented house had sold, we moved back into our home. A few days later our new neighbour was on our doorstep. Furious.

"The tree was there when we bought the property."

"What tree?"

"The one lying on my property."

"Can't say I noticed it. Did it fall?"

"It was chainsawed."

"I don't believe it. How did that happen?"

We ended up matey, eventually, and even managed to have a laugh about it. And he did have a lot of other trees.

There was the woman we sold one of our homes to, asking could they move in over the long weekend before settlement took place. It would be so much more convenient for them and we'd moved out. Even though my lawyer said absolutely not, I foolishly said yes.

Our favour was returned by the woman refusing to settle. "Why is that, ma'am?"

"Because the waste disposal unit is broken and you failed to inform us. This is false representation."

"Have you tried the safety switch?"

"The what ... ?"

I said, "Never mind. Just get out of our house - now. You are trespassing and in breach of your contract." I only meant the spirit of the law. Settlement took place within the hour.

What makes humans act like this? And why is it so often over property? It's because we have brains and a brain is not near as rational or reasonable as it tells itself.

We are narrative-builders. I'm certainly guilty of tailoring the narrative to fit my argument. Used to think I made a reasonable neighbour too. But that belief was dependent on it cutting both ways.

It's the same behaviour that gets plane passengers feeling entitled to push back their seat. "It's my right." Yes, strictly speaking. Even in being rude and extremely inconsiderate.

On one Air France internal flight of 90 minutes, a seat flopped into my lap. Why recline over such a time period?

The guy ignored my polite request to go back to normal position. So I kind of gave it a strong shove, as you do dealing with a stroppy French rooster. Nope.

A harder shove. I was ready to explode. This is wilful, inconsiderate behaviour. Luckily it didn't escalate or cops would be waiting on the tarmac to arrest me.

That's wrong. They should be arresting the selfish seat offenders. And it should be enshrined in our laws that acts lacking in consideration go against us in a court hearing.

Otherwise, it's a jungle and we're the narrative beasts inventing stories and sagas around our grievances, hurts and outrages.

- NZ Herald

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