Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Case of the Parasitic Neighbor

Being more original than most, the 538 blog—the brainchild of Wunderkind Nate Silver-- has its own special advice column. It offers a letter containing a moral dilemma and asks several of its writers to solve it. Then it does a survey to ask the public what they would do.

Here’s yesterday’s letter, about a friend who mooches:

My neighbor is infringing on my good nature! I am a stay-at-home mom. My children are young and both are in school part time. My neighbor works part time and seems to have an enormous number of issues that “suddenly arise,” everything from “My regular baby sitter is out of town” to “I really need a pedicure,” and she always asks if I can watch her children. I certainly don’t mind helping someone out if they are in a bind. However, the requests are becoming more and more frequent and last-minute, not to mention a little demanding. The attitude I receive from her is that she is incredibly busy because she works, whereas I couldn’t possibly have anything else to do because I do not work. What should I do? I want to be neighborly, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of! — Blair

Blair feels that her neighbor is taking advantage. Blair is right. So, how should she react?

Should she just refuse? Should she send her neighbor a letter expressing her concerns? Should she sit down for tea and discuss the matter? Should she insist that her neighbor reciprocate? Or should she just excuse herself with a convenient lie?

For the record, most people who were surveyed (over 70%) recommended that Blair have a heart-to-heart talk with her neighbor. Nothing like clearing the air and expressing one’s feelings.

The problem, Walt Hickey notes, is that the neighbor has not yet chosen to reciprocate, to offer something in return. Thus, we are dealing with a neighbor who thinks nothing of using other people.

Hickey throws cold water on the notion of having an open and honest discussion:

The other possibility is that an honest, frank discussion about personal needs and time management won’t succeed against this species of parasite. 

At best, she might obtain an insincere apology. And then, things will go back to where they were. Demanding that she reciprocate solves nothing. If she does not know that she should reciprocate, she is effectively a human parasite.

One 538 writer, Morgan Jenkins, is less sympathetic. In her eyes the neighbor is purposefully using Blair and making her feel inferior for not having a demanding career:

Cut that person off immediately. This neighbor is using her job as a crutch and, in a way, shaming Blair for being a stay-at-home mom. Like, “Oh, your life is not nearly as important and busy as mine so you should always be available to me.” She knows exactly what she’s doing.

To which Hickey adds;

Yeah. Honestly, I should introduce her to my close friend “Devon” — aka the fake friend I brunch with occasionally when I want to decline plans and have no better excuse. Sometimes the best way to avoid a manipulative person is to play their game and lie back to ’em.

As for my own view—I am sure you are dying to know—I would not engage in open and honest discussion and would not shun the neighbor completely. I agree with Morgan and Walt—Blair should simply make up excuses about why she cannot do as requested.

In this way she will be able to communicate the message without stating it directly. In so doing she will be giving her neighbor a chance to recognize on her own that she is behaving disrespectfully. And to correct herself. It’s called shaming. If the neighbor does not get the message and apologize profusely, she will eventually stop making the requests.

If Blair were to accuse her openly, she would be threatening her. And we never want to do that.


Ares Olympus said...

It's a good predicament to consider, and my state of Minnesota-Nice is famous for our indirect and passive-aggressive communication, which would agree with Stuart - make up credible excuses until the requests stop, or until you need something and can see how receptive the other is to your needs.

Myself, I can do the PA thing with reasonable dishonesty, and I have my own policy I don't tell people, but I tell myself I will answer direct questions honestly. So if someone asks if my excuses are excuses, I will admit they are. And if they ask why, I'll have a prepared answer to tell them. And if they try to negotiate for a restoration of better relations, I will have some ideas that contain some more reciprocation. At least my golden rule would wish others would do that for me if I asked a direct question.

I've experienced a reversal to the parasitic neighbor. Some people, not want to take advantage of others kindness, will offer money compensation for favors like rides or things like dog watching when they're out of town, and I've always accepted money, especially if they offered before hand with no prompting on my part. But then I've talked to other people who say that this is wrong, than I'm supposed to offer to help but refuse to accept compensation. But I also I see sometimes people offer compensation for their own pride, and so I figure now I need to be more careful, and if I think someone is poorer than me, I can always accept half, so their pride can stay intact.

Jack Fisher said...

Blair gets asked over and over because Blair keeps saying "yes."

A simple "no", and no need for lies or excuses.

Grow a spine.

trigger warning said...

Jack has it right. We have a rule in our house: "never feed the dog at the table".

Shaun F said...

Hickey nailed it. You cannot negotiate in good faith with a parasite.

James said...

Jack's got it right. If she wanted to be clever she needs to ask the neighbor for a favor which will be turned down. Then it's really easy to say no to any request.

Ares Olympus said...

James said... Jack's got it right. If she wanted to be clever she needs to ask the neighbor for a favor which will be turned down. Then it's really easy to say no to any request.

Perhaps that's the whole reciprocation game in a nutshell, or the level 1 version. Husbands and wives can play such games too, although it seems someone always wins the resentment game and withdraw and so it is not unlikely that it may end in divorce.

They say love means not keeping score, and I partially believe that. Or I believe if you keep score, it should be to make sure you don't fall too far behind. But even if you think you're ahead, you still probably shouldn't believe it with too much conviction, rather you can presume you've neglected some brownie points scored by the other side.

Karma is a similar game, with the advantage that the universe keeps track, and your deficits with some people (like your parents or teachers) can be made up with others like your kids, or your difficult neighbor, or your elderly parents as well. But according to the JC booklet I was given today at the gas station, good deeds won't open the doorway to heaven, so that motive won't help. Maybe it's best to consider we've all, saints and parasite alike, been given more than we can ever repay.

Jack Fisher said...

AO ... WTF are you yammering about?

Anonymous said...

AO: The Case of the Parasitic Commenter

Ares Olympus said...

Jack Fisher said... AO ... WTF are you yammering about?

I'm sorry, let me try again. I'm agreeing James's advice to be clever is good, giving the identified moocher an opportunity to give back, and presuming she will not, and this is a good way to demonstrate a failure of reciprocation. I'm agreeing its helpful to have evidence like that when you want to say no, or want to offer an excuse for not helping.

But there's still the problem of connection if you want it sometimes, or if you want to avoid overt or covert hostility with neighbors you see regularly.

It does seem like women in general have more problem with saying no, and because it's hard, labeling others as bad in some way make it easier, like moocher here. Men, as this blog demonstrate, more generally find it easier to say no without guilt, although perhaps the need to reduce people to labels and name-calling shows a social conscience is being resisted.

Anyway, so I see perhaps a potential "reciprocation level 2" game includes sufficient repetition to enabling cooperative reform, while level one risks just looking for a first excuse effort for disengagement from the needs of others.

James said...

I wouldn't worry too much about the connectivity aspect. You can have all types of that, but they know that they've said no, they know you know, it changes you from being a public utility to more of a person on equal footing. It also should (it may not) also make the neighbor realize what a "favor" is which they seem to have a poor idea.