Service of Neighbors

May 26th, 2011

Categories: Accommodation, Management, Manipulation, Neighbors


We were on the Metro-North Railroad last week when the conductor told us how his neighbors came to his aid on Mother’s Day. We’d been discussing the huge cost of anything related to trees from trimming to removal and installation.

The conductor had bought his wife a tree to celebrate the occasion and after lunch went to dig the hole to put it in the ground. Soon he confronted what most of us find in the soil of Dutchess County, NY: Lots of stones, rocks and small boulders. A slight man, neither his shovel nor his muscles were up to the job.

treeplantingNoticing his dilemma, a neighbor came over with a bigger shovel and began to dig and soon there were two neighbors scooping out an appropriately big hole and lugging away the mini boulders. Our conductor ran for some beer and watched them finish the job, thankful that his tree was in place and that his only expense was a couple of beers.

This reminded me of a story a former managing editor of The Daily News told me years ago. The paper sent her to an intensive management course for a few days and she shared one of the instructor’s anecdotes. He told the class that at a cocktail party, one of his neighbors admired his vegetable garden and asked him if he might share his secrets. She invited him over to her house one Saturday and he ended up preparing the soil and planting the seeds while she watched.

A few weeks later she called to ask him if he might come over to tell him which were the weeds and which were the seedlings in her garden. As he weeded her garden, she sat on the porch sipping lemonade. “And this,” he said, “is an excellent example of management.”

What part of management is manipulation? Are helpful neighbors suckers for the most part? Do you feel good or like a chump when you help your neighbor either at home, at work or on a committee or board?


8 Responses to “Service of Neighbors”

  1. CKM Said:

    That’s the old “Tom Sawyer” trick! Get out your copy and look at Chapter One about how Tom “conned” his friends into whitewashing a picket fence for him.

    Yes. It can work as a management techinique, but if you abuse using it, you’ll lose your employees’ loyalty never to get it back.

    As to neighbors, whether they or I feel used, tends to depend on whether I like them or feel at ease with them, not on what they do, or do not do for me, and visa-versa. I understand that we are by propinquity mutually reliant on our neighbors, but the fact that somone lives near me is not a reason in my book to know them.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think that what was missing in the “management” example in my post was that the neighbor didn’t even try to do the job, didn’t get on her hands and knees to learn which was the weed and which a seedling nor did she offer her neighbor lemonade or a cool spot to rest. The conductor, on the other hand, gratefully accepted his neighbor’s help when his efforts didn’t work. He didn’t ask for help to begin with and volunteered beer in thanks.

    I’ve had and observed bosses who work as hard as the staff and act as an example and I’ve seen and worked with the neighbor-with-vegetable-garden-so-called-query kind. I work better with the former type.

  3. David Reich Said:

    I often help people, with no expectation or hope of repayment of the favor.

    All I ask for is a heartfelt thank-you.

    On the rare occasions no thank-you ever came, it was the last time I ever did anything for those people… unless they paid me.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    THANK YOU, David, for commenting on my blog [don’t want to get on your bad side].

    Kidding aside, I’m with you. I don’t enjoy doing things for arrogant people who expect to be served and can’t wrap their lips around a thank you. 1,000 years ago I worked at a big PR agency. I called one of the PR execs Mr. Louis Vuitton…he had more LV luggage and paraphernalia than anyone I knew. I was a junior AE–my first PR job. I ran to get and hold the door for him one morning because his hands were full — LV briefcase, luggage and goodness knows what else. He sailed by me without a “Hi” or “Thanks” or even a grunt…That was the last time I ever did anything for him [he wasn’t in my group, so I could ignore him, but still…]!

  5. Lisa McGee "Nenaghgal" Said:

    We moved to Ireland almost 4 years ago from New York. We bought a house in a development or housing estate and live in a semi-detached house. It took some time to get to know everyone but now we have the most unique amazing relationship with all our neighbours- it is extremely rare and I hold it dear to me as I could not survive without their kindness and their friendship. We do lots of things together- last year one family had a communion and while they were at the church all the mother’s went into their house, got all the food ready, tables set up, flowers done you name it- they arrived back from the church with everything ready to go, calm, stress free and delighted.
    Our children play together, we pop in and out of each others doors for a cup of sugar or to borrow a hair straightener or to get an opinion about an outfit we are wearing out for the night. We take care of each others dogs, children- we cry on each other shoulders, laugh hysterically together- yes we have our moments when we sometimes get irritated because one neighbour does less than the others or talks too much about themselves but it all evens out in the end and whenever I’m dying for a house with a bit more land (which has been my thing lately because I’d love to grow more vegetable and have a few chickens) I have to stop because without these amazing people just across the street- my life would be so much emptier. Friendship with anyone including neighbours has it’s ups and downs but we have to take it all in stride. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend in the USA- we are off to a Communion and it’s a family affair so I’m making pasta salad and a sticky toffee pudding for my contribution.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your neighbors sound wonderful. There are many neighborhoods that are not as accepting of outsiders, much less foreigners!

    As I read your comment I wondered if there is a plot of land to which you all have access that you might develop into a community vegetable garden, much like the ones that we have in cities here. I don’t think that would solve the chicken question.

    As for the Communion celebrations shouldered by neighbors, what a lovely arrangement for all involved, while keeping in the spirit of the event.

  7. Lucille Said:

    This post hit home for me. We have lived in our home for more than 7 years next to an active, working couple in their mid-50’s. They were invited to all of our BBQ’s, family parties, etc. and for a long time I would pull their trash container and recycling bin down their sloping driveway during sun, rain, sleet and snow. In the winter, my husband would snow-blow their driveway after he was done with ours. Not once did we get a “thank you” but we kept doing it anyway to set a good example to the children. Well we finally “woke up” during this past year when to our amazement we watched the neighbor plow his driveway and two other driveways and then asked me what I was doing when I came out with my lone shovel. I’m not proud to say that we no longer speak much to them but I will say I feel as if a weight has been lifted as it is no longer “expected” that we “take care” of their chores!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a loss to your neighbors. You have a charming family. Sounds like jealousy.

    I have been in umpteen similar relationships especially with work neighbors or industry neighbors. The only difference now is that I am quicker to do what my Mom used to suggest: “Bury the bone but remember where you buried it.” Translated: I may jump on a dime and go out of my way for someone who doesn’t say “thank you”–and that’s all I expect–but now I do this for them once, not countless times. This wasn’t always the case! I try to forget the incident as soon as I can but the next time they come to me with a crisis or query, I play dumb and stupid and have no idea how to help.

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