A Question about Improving Position in a Neighborhood

Situation: A reader writes:

I am a student of Sun Tse, yet confused. My dilemma: I live in a neighborhood that could best be described as a test tube for strategy. It is a upper middle class neighborhood in which my wife and 2 sons have lived in for 16 years. In this time we have been gossiped back-stabbed ostracized and actually had our hedges cut down by a jealous next door neighbor. The annual block party we attended we were totally ignored so quit attending, Now the neighbor next to us the one that cut down our hedge and also has called the cops on us at least 3 times for nothing is hosting it.

Sun says read your opponents mind they are going to clearly ostracize us because this block needs a scapegoat. We cannot move, so we are stuck sort of. My strategy is to mount a quick strike to the other neighbors who are co hosting the event. Get in fast before the others make an appearance and leave before the hyenas group. This shows we wont be aced out but we also will not participate in these sadistic games. As petty as this seems after 16 years we are fed up the enemy always imposes their will on us. We need help imposing our will and trying to achieve victory, unfortunately these people love this game and will not give up . What do you recommend please? P.S. We have tried ignoring them they just increase the harassment The party is in 2 days so any answer would be appreciated. Thank you.

Opportunity: Start thinking about your overall position in the neighborhood rather than focusing on those you specifically see as enemies. You improve your relationships one step at a time by filling openings, not by escalating battles with those with whom you don’t have good relationships. Before taking any action, simply ask yourself: how does this help or hurt my standing with my neighbors in terms of what they want and need from a neighbor. Sun Tzu's strategy is not about beating enemies but improving position. As long as you are focused on your enemies, you are missing the opportunities to improve position. You have had 15 years to develop your current position in the neighborhood and you have to accept that you cannot fix it overnight, especially not in the two days before your block party, though it might be an opportunity to start.

Strategy: Your first need is for more perspective on the situation. Everything in your message suggests that you need more information about your position in the neighborhood and why it is the way it is (2.0 Developing Perspective), not just with opponents. Sometimes opposition cannot be avoided you need to see your situation from the perspective of your neighbors as much as from your own, and not just your opponents.

The path you choose depends on your family’s goals, the goals of your neighbors, and the nature of the situation. As far as your basic situation, there are only two possibilities:

  1. Everyone in your neighborhood is worthless, in which case, the best response if for you and your family should have as little to do with them as possible.
  2. While the may be a few neighbors that you will never get along with, you can develop good relationship with many of your neighbors if you take advantage of any openings to do so.

Implementation: When you say, “the neighborhood needs a scapegoat,” you seem to indicate that you believe that most everyone is worthless. In that case, interaction such as cutting down hedges and harassing you by calling the police should be addressed aggressively through the legal system. There is no requirement that you socialize with your neighbors. I have lived in neighborhoods that were social and others where no one knew anyone, and currently live in the later. I cannot say that it made any real difference in my social life either way. We all only have a limited about of time to put into social relationships and the important social relationships in my life have always been my extended family, friends from my work, and (when my daughter was young) school. I wish I had more time to spend on those key relationships. Generally, the more work we put into relationships, the most we get out of them, but for those efforts to work, we have to pick the right relationships to invest in.

If getting closer to your neighbors is really important to your family's goals (an issue for not only you but your spouse and kids), the issue is simply one of finding opportunities. A block party is a good opportunity to connect with others and start the longer process of improving your position. Ignore those with whom you don’t get alone and concentrate on those who are on the periphery of the social network (strategy is about working at the boundaries). If I were looking for friendships in the neighborhood, I would try to identify where the openings are: who doesn’t have established relationships in the neighborhood and might need neighborly support now and then. There are such openings in every neighborhood. Old people who need help mowing their lawn or running errands. Mothers who need someone to occasionally watch the kids. People who travel and needs someone to pick up the mail. The progress cycle start with listening. Start looking and listening at the boundaries for openings of unresolved needs.

If you build your relationship up in the neighborhood over time, your opponents will have a much more difficult time harassing you because they will not only be opposing you, but all of your friends in the neighborhood.