Dear Rachel,

Whoever said that good fences make good neighbors didn’t live next to mine. Because fences don’t keep out noise! We both work at home. He gives self-development and business-coaching lectures, and I am a data analyst. He entertains large groups of people, who make a lot of noise in their interactive class, and he uses a microphone and amplifier so that no one in the vicinity of 20 miles misses his life-altering lessons. The life he’s altered most, however, is mine. I need quiet for work, and the sounds are unbearable. I’ve complained, of course, and he claims that he’s in his rights since he’s not infringing on any laws and his classes are not held late. I’ve had to leave my house several times to go elsewhere to work. This is both unfair and intolerable, and I’m going out of my mind. What can I do with such an inconsiderate neighbor?!

Broken Fence



Dear Mending Wall,

You do seem to have a very difficult problem. But it isn’t insurmountable.

First, let’s focus on what you and your neighbor have in common:

1. You both live in the same place.

2. You’re both trying to support yourself.

3. You both like your independence.

4. You both work at home.

Sometimes, focusing on what you have in common instead of what divides you helps generate a better attitude towards the other person. You’re not really enemies. You’re just trying to achieve the same goals using different methods.

While your neighbor’s methods might be preventing you from working, that isn’t his intention a priori, and there are probably no laws against what he’s doing. You could, of course, check into city ordinances and make sure he keeps the noise levels down when they’re supposed to be, but I don’t believe that’s going to be much help.

When Jacob went out to meet his brother and rival Esau after not seeing him for 20 years, he devised a three-part strategy: Prepare for war (and protect his family); offer a gift as a peace offering; and pray. That strategy has been recommended for many instances, and yours sounds like it can benefit from that as well.

Protect your Interests

Inasmuch as hostility hasn’t gotten you far in getting your needs met, I suggest that you make some changes in your environment. These could include:

  • Adapting your schedule to work hours when your neighbor isn’t entertaining.
  • Going to the library or a café to work, but doing it willingly (and have a latté).
  • Moving your work space to a different part of the house.
  • Soundproofing a room.
  • Wearing earplugs.
  • Turning on the air-conditioning and closing all the windows.

While maybe not successfully blocking out all sound, some of these suggestions may make the situation more bearable.

Bear Gifts

Animosity does not make people more amenable to peace, but a peace offering in the form of a gift does. It also makes you feel more positive about the person you’re giving to. Make a friendly gesture, like bringing your neighbor homemade brownies or recommending that a friend of yours take his course. Or maybe even take it yourself. I’m sure if he sees that you are trying to appease him, he will be more likely to act with consideration.

Prayer

We need always to be cognizant of the fact that all our challenges in life, including our difficult relationships with other people, are given by G‑d for us to work on ourselves. After all, if the noise was being caused by renovations or roadwork, there wouldn’t be anything you could to do about it. Accept that, like in the above cases, you have no control over the situation, and your best course of action is to pray to G‑d, Who can remove this obstacle from your life. By telling G‑d that you simply cannot work this way and you don’t want to feud with your neighbor—and by asking Him to please help—you open up the possibility for Divine intervention. G‑d doesn’t want to see His children fighting either.

So, to recap:

  • Focus on common goals you share with your neighbor.
  • Try to be flexible and make adjustments to facilitate your work.
  • Make a peace offering.
  • Pray for strength and assistance.

Hoping this helps you not only become good neighbors, but good friends.

Neighborly yours,

Rachel