My neighbor killed my tree. What should I do?

Via on Jun 3, 2011

Buddhists retreat. Right?

You know, like in India, with the Muslims. In Tibet, with the Chinese.

But when it comes to Boulder, in my backyard, I’m not so sure. I think it might be time for different sort of Buddhism, one with backbone—with a notion of ahimsa that’s tough-minded.

Time is our most precious commodity: life is short, and we’ve much good work to do.

I find that among we good people, who consider “honor” (doing the right thing) before “happiness”…well, when we encounter immoral people (who tend to be litigious), we retreat. It’s the smart thing to do, really: it’s not worth it, whatever “it” is.

Three years ago, a landlord ripped off myself and two other tenants. No one sued, taught him a lesson, or helped get the word out there that this man was bad news. My friend Dave encouraged me to take him to court, but I declined, paying up $2,000 I didn’t owe instead. I was too busy to deal with a jerk. My other two tenants also suffered financially, and time-wise.

Two years ago, a nice older lady I didn’t know at all asked if she could bring her son to my New Year’s Eve party, at my house. Of course, I said. I dedicated a room for children to play, valuing the inclusion of children in appropriate adult celebrations—my mom, after all, had brought me everywhere when I was a child, and I have many precious memories because of her willingness to include me in her life. The next morning, I noticed that the 1904 historically designed window glass upstairs in that children’s room had been cracked, broken. I asked around, and a young man said another boy had done it. I message the mother—the woman who’d asked if she could bring her son. I asked her to replace the window. At first she agreed to, then put me in touch with her lawyer.

Six months ago, one of the college girls who live next door to my house backed her SUV into my tree, bending a metal fence pole in half and killing the tree. No one took responsibility, so I asked my neighbors (their SUVs all back onto a shared alley that abuts said tree). I wasn’t upset at all, though I had wished they’d have come forward or left a note. They said “ah, XX did it, we’ll ask her to talk to you.” She did so, coming over to my house and assuring she’d get me a new tree. Approx six months later, nothing. So I asked her about it. Two times. Both times she said she’d take care of it. Then, nothing. One of her roommates, who’d interned for elephant, put me in touch with her rather than acting as mediator, and I texted her. She asked me to stop harassing her, told me I had no proof, and that she didn’t have the money to pay for it ’cause she didn’t have a job. She put me in touch with her father, who threatened me (twice, now) with a criminal suit for harassing a minor. Needless to say, he’s just trying to bully me—I never harassed her and have no interest in doing so—rather the opposite: my assumption was that she’d pay for a new tree and it’d be a time hassle but that’s that, we’d be nice neighbors and citizens and it was no biggie. I just wanted a tree replaced, even if it would take my time to arrange, get a new one, cut down the old one, plant the new (way smaller) one. I’d asked for $100, which doesn’t begin to cover my time.

It was only after months of no communication that I started getting a funny feeling…that she had no intention of paying. My friends of facebook, who I asked for advice (having never gone to court, before), are split: sue her! Teach her a lesson! Save others from suffering similar fate at her hands down the line! (I don’t have a lawyer, or any savings or time at all, so this presents a hassle). The other half: have a tree-planting party, move on, it’s not worth it!

What do you think?

I think life is trying to teach me a lesson. I need to be able to protect my home. Half the world is immoral, selfish, afraid, stuck in poverty mentality. The other half of the world, we’re doing our damnedest to do the right thing, even at the expense of (short-term) happiness. Honor. It’s a special word, and one worth teaching our children. Rather, this father of my next door neighbor is teaching her that it’s okay to lie, to get litigious, that it’s not necessary to do the right thing. That’s one way to live, for sure. But I wouldn’t trade my interior compass and exterior dead tree for her small world and big car any ol’day.

Here’s how I feel:

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About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

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35 Responses to “My neighbor killed my tree. What should I do?”

  1. Antoinette says:

    I think you did the right thing in speaking up to have them make their wrongs right. I think you presented the issue of their lack of ethics in a non confrontational way. I don’t think taking them to court will teach them a lesson, even if you win the case and get your tree from them. I’d be inclined to plant another tree and put something on it so that every time they see it in their rear view mirror they can be reminded that karma happens.

  2. Aunty says:

    Dang. Cap'n Picard sure it pissed.
    You sound like an avoider like yer dear ole aunty. Git yerself a lawyer, boy. Have the lawyer speak for you.

  3. hkoren says:

    The $100 isn't worth going to small claims. Let it go, forgive her youthful transgression. One of these days when she grows up, she'll regret what she did. It was somewhere around her age when I came to the conclusion that Karma had a profound and immediate affect on the quality of my life, or at least that it would be in my best interest to believe it did. If I never wronged anybody and recognized the indirect consequences of my wrongdoing, I might never have figured this out. This crime is not worthy of your vengeance (nor is any crime), let the universe sort this one out. Dedicate the new tree to her karmic reformation.

  4. Chris says:

    Lead by example.
    Plant a new tree and move on.

  5. Debi says:

    You gave her an opportunity to grow. She was not ready to make a commitment to harmony in her heart. She will have other opportunities to do this, to learn, to grow, to put this lesson aside and move on. It's not retribution you are after. Just know in time she will have an opportunity to grow and move further into the light. Replace the tree yourself. Enjoy the sweat and toil, the strength in your legs and arms that allow you to do this. Feel blessed for this opportunity. There are thousands of people within a 100 miles of you who would love to have a working body and be able to bring life back to the earth. With each shovel of dirt, bless them, knowing in time, they will again have such an opportunity to feel what it's like to have a body that does its bidding.

  6. Sarah says:

    No matter what anyone says, everyone must choose which battles to fight themselves. Ask a million people and you get a million reasons why you should do one over the other.

  7. boulderwind says:

    Buy your own new tree, move on. She is the one who has to live with herself. You do not need to be the agent of her karma. Eventually if she keeps up this lack of responsibility and learned nothing from the interaction, she will pay dearly and someone else will be the agent of her karma. You did what you can do by communicating with her, etc. If she refuses to be responsible, and her Daddy supports that behavior, let Daddy bail her out of jail, have her move home when she is so flaky that she can't hold a job, etc etc etc….

  8. Joe says:

    It's always a good exercise to ruminate on, however.

    I feel the question sometimes arises: How are Buddhist-inspired ideals different from being a so-called "doormat"? I think that type of question itself says a lot about our cultural attitudes toward aggressiveness and alleged passivity.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Exactly! Can we be peace-loving, kind, fair, friendly…without being victims, wimps, pushovers, enablers? After all, this is my home—if I had a family, and someone was pushing around a child of mine, would giving in and remaining silent be the right thing to do as a parent? ~ W.

      • Joe says:

        I agree with something Tychani said below. Take one final action (letter, conversation, whatever), communicated in a totally authentic way, and then let it go. Some may feel you've already "clung" to it too much, but again, that raises the question: does non-attachment mean we let people walk all over us and break our stuff and we just smile and say, "Oh well, it's just stuff!"? On the one hand, it IS just stuff and we are asserting a bit of ego to push back, but to not push back at all would be a bit ridiculous. I think the key is communicating authentically, non-aggressively, and non-judgmentally. Again: difficult.

        • elephantjournal says:

          Honestly, that's what I've done so far…just communicated straight-forwardly. At this point I either give up or go to court.

  9. Shady Character says:

    I know a guy. He can "handle" your situation. Its best we talk in person about this from here on out.

  10. Tychani says:

    I've been through a lot of similar situations, and it's really stunning how few people (both old and young) are into taking right action and being responsible for their mistakes. I do think the Universe is trying to tell you something, but I think that it could be something about your own feelings about control, attachment, fairness, or something in a similar vein. And perhaps to the notion that "what we resist, persists." I can't speak to your overall interpretation of the meaning of these events, and if it were a child being hurt, it would be another matter entirely. But I know for myself that as long as I stay attached to my stuff, and focus on how unfair it is when bad things happen to me/my stuff, then I just seem to draw more of that to me. Maybe the compromise is to write the letter, send the email, etc., and state what you believe would be the fair/right/just thing for the other party to do, and state your hope that they will "do the right thing," and then let it go and tell yourself, after X date, I'll just take care of it myself, and I am confident that the Universe will help provide the resources needed – you know, that Universal flow of karma vibe where you can get "paid back" through another source if you keep your lovingkindness in full practice despite others' trying to knock you off your horse. That's my $1.50. =]

  11. JenJen says:

    Not worth getting so upset over, IMHO. I've been listening to Pema Chodron's audiotape, "Don't Bite the Hook." I hiiiiiiighly recommend you do too.

  12. elephantjournal says:

    #
    Erin S You don't think she's hurting? People who aren't themselves hurting don't hurt others. But this isn't really about her. It's about how you respond to the circumstances. Just asking her if it would help if you helped her find employment somewhere might be all she needs to awaken.

    #
    Joe A
    You said after two attempts you texted her. Were the following replies also by text? "She asked me to stop harassing her, told me I had no proof, and that she didn’t have the money to pay for it ’cause she didn’t have a job. She put me in t…ouch with her father…" I'd probably leave a note on the door asking person X if she would stop by so I could talk to her (in my doorway, not inside the house) and just calmly restate your case: "I thought at one point you had agreed you did it, therefore I pursued it, and at this point I just want to replace my tree. I'm not trying to harass you in any way. You say you can't afford it, but can you think of any solution we might come to, or do you have any other thoughts on the matter?" I hate face to face adult discussions, personally, but that seems like the way to go that would also be nonthreatening and give her the opportunity to think about whether she has some obligation. Good luck.

    #
    Sarah S Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I wouldn't think texting is a good form of communication for this scenario. I think a letter or an open discussion would be ideal.

    #
    Jennifer Kossmann Warren
    I think I might say to her: "Look, I know you feel bad about this, and you have a conscience, so you probably feel pretty guilty about shirking your responsibility. And you probably feel torn, because you don't want to go against your Dad…, and he's telling you not to own up to your responsibility, so that's putting you in a tough position. But you're never going to be free of that feeling of guilt, every time you see me, or see a tree at the end of anybody's driveway, for that matter, until you do the right thing."
    #
    Jennifer Kossmann Warren Is it manipulative? A little, in that it will force her to think a little. But assuming she isn't a sociopath, she probably DOES feel a little guilty, and being a teen (and having a father with poor morals) she probably really doesn't know that she is capable of acting honorably (or even what that means.) You can help her set higher expectations for herself.

    #
    Belinda B. Don't sweat the little things. Go get a new tree and plant it yourself. She may not get it now but she will feel bad someday when she has something she likes and someone runs over. She and her father will also feel bad when you quietly get your own tree. This is little-don't worry, be happy she didn't run a loved one over.

    #
    Amy D Include Picard in any post and it is better IMO.

    #
    Joe A Jennifer, the only reason I don't like that tack is that I've found it useful (if trite) to follow that rule of using only "I" statements and avoiding "you feel this" and "you do that"… I think it makes people feel more defensive when you talk about them instead of yourself.

  13. elephantjournal says:

    #
    Erin S You don't think she's hurting? People who aren't themselves hurting don't hurt others. But this isn't really about her. It's about how you respond to the circumstances. Just asking her if it would help if you helped her find employment somewhere might be all she needs to awaken.

    #
    Joe A
    You said after two attempts you texted her. Were the following replies also by text? "She asked me to stop harassing her, told me I had no proof, and that she didn’t have the money to pay for it ’cause she didn’t have a job. She put me in t…ouch with her father…" I'd probably leave a note on the door asking person X if she would stop by so I could talk to her (in my doorway, not inside the house) and just calmly restate your case: "I thought at one point you had agreed you did it, therefore I pursued it, and at this point I just want to replace my tree. I'm not trying to harass you in any way. You say you can't afford it, but can you think of any solution we might come to, or do you have any other thoughts on the matter?" I hate face to face adult discussions, personally, but that seems like the way to go that would also be nonthreatening and give her the opportunity to think about whether she has some obligation. Good luck.

    #
    Sarah S Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I wouldn't think texting is a good form of communication for this scenario. I think a letter or an open discussion would be ideal.

    #
    Jennifer W
    I think I might say to her: "Look, I know you feel bad about this, and you have a conscience, so you probably feel pretty guilty about shirking your responsibility. And you probably feel torn, because you don't want to go against your Dad…, and he's telling you not to own up to your responsibility, so that's putting you in a tough position. But you're never going to be free of that feeling of guilt, every time you see me, or see a tree at the end of anybody's driveway, for that matter, until you do the right thing."
    Is it manipulative? A little, in that it will force her to think a little. But assuming she isn't a sociopath, she probably DOES feel a little guilty, and being a teen (and having a father with poor morals) she probably really doesn't know that she is capable of acting honorably (or even what that means.) You can help her set higher expectations for herself.

    #
    Belinda B. Don't sweat the little things. Go get a new tree and plant it yourself. She may not get it now but she will feel bad someday when she has something she likes and someone runs over. She and her father will also feel bad when you quietly get your own tree. This is little-don't worry, be happy she didn't run a loved one over.

    #
    Amy DeFelice Ryan Include Picard in any post and it is better IMO.

    #
    Joe A Jennifer, the only reason I don't like that tack is that I've found it useful (if trite) to follow that rule of using only "I" statements and avoiding "you feel this" and "you do that"… I think it makes people feel more defensive when you talk about them instead of yourself.
    #
    elephantjournal.com Amen, Amy, my thoughts exactly! The whole writeup was an excuse to use one of his videos.

    #
    elephantjournal.com Sarah, we talked in person the first…four times. Usually just in passing when we ran into each other in our shared alleyway, the first time when she came to my door to say she'd get me a new tree. The last few times were by text. I've now been instructed not to contact her at all by her dad, so I'll honor that. I just wanted her to do the right thing and replace the tree, and have zero interest in anything else.

  14. meublen says:

    W – my practice lately is to notice when I get triggered, and dig deeper to see what's causing the trigger. Is there an area of your life where you've not respected someone else's property, or you've not righted a wrong that you created? Or is there an area where you were deeply wronged in the past that hasn't been cleared, that this is triggering?

  15. Pamela says:

    I had a similar situation when the young teenager next door ran over my front lawn – tearing it up and smashing plant pots. Not one word of acknowledgment from him, I didn't even want him to pay, but I would have thought it polite to say sorry. It happened again and I got angry. I thought this is stupid, I feel so much anger towards a stupid kid. Then the anger built and every time I drove into our shared drive I felt the anger rise.
    Eventually I got the message. Accidents happen, if he had deliberately done it, no one was really hurt. Nothing he did couldn't be repaired or made better. The ruts in the soil stayed there for years and eventually I made enough home compost to fill the holes. Now, this kids has become an adult, he's still a selfish little bugger, but he hasn't run over my lawn again. I look out and see something I conquered in myself, a need for self righteous revenge. I accepted the slight. I personally would rebuild the fence, and plant two or three beautiful trees, perhaps a cherry blossom or something with lush thick green leaves. A thing of beauty, so ever time you see it and watch it grow you can replace your anger with awe.

  16. Lewis E. Ward says:

    I would do some tonglen. I also would have taken a similar path, realizing that nothing would happen and then let go. Last Summer I had an incident in a parking lot. A person (A DR.) heavy cart loaded with building supplies got out of control and crashed into my car. I was coming out as he was putting his purchases into the car. He explained what happened, I said it was minor and we exchanged insurance information. I said i have someone who can repair it for very little and explained that there's no need to handle it formally because it would only cost about $300. I called insurance they said do as i suggested . Called a body shop and a small body shop of another neighbor. The small one was half the cost the formal shop and there would be no points on either insurance. The Dr and his lawyer thought I was scamming him so I had them talk to my insurance who also told them they were getting a better deal. So we took before and after photos and eventually he paid up. Was it worth it?? The car looks nicer! It was a lot of work. I practiced tonglen so what could be bad? My intentions were good and neither of us really suffered. We all have opportunities to step up to engage in life and learn not to harbor resentments, anger and the feelings we have been chumped.

  17. Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

    what to do when someone trespasses against us/wrongs us? …forgive them? (i know… pretty whacky)

    that said, restorative justice and reconciliation is generally a better path than pursuing retributive "justice."

    best.

  18. Jack says:

    So dramatic. How old is this writer? Sounds like a 13 year old.

  19. Pamela says:

    my tree = maitri ? ha ha

  20. Deven Sisler says:

    If you can get a lawyer to draft a letter without an anger on your part. Let’s be honest it takes a lot to actually fully destroy a tree– i believe you can give her the opportunity to annihilate some karma by asking her to step up.

    Although, you probably need time stamped pics to have any case. Take her to Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. And her dad! They are all about moral integrity.

  21. THE VICSTER says:

    I Have a neighbor who is constantly pulling my chain.. first, her son offered to do some work getting my diving board fixed and then i paid him and he brought the wrong part and i was out 200.00 bucks.. then she told me after my yard man replaced the post in the fence that he left some really big stuff in her yard, so i go over to her house to remove it and she tells me that she has already picked it up and it really wasn't much of anything, another yank, then she tells me i can have the pecan trees in the back yard and when i go over to get them, she tells me she's changed her mind. another yank. so i tell her her pecan trees, since they are starting to overhang on my property and knowing that the roots are just as far as the longest branch, i tell her that the roots will eventually undermine my concrete walk and pool as she planted the trees right next to the fence in back and she tells me she's not worried about it. of course she's not worried it's not her property that going to be damaged.. so i put down some rock salt to stop the roots from coming underground to my property. it was the left over salt from making home made ice cream.. see cont'd

  22. THE VICSTER says:

    cont'd
    well, to make a long story instead of the salt going straight down in the ground it filtered i guess it's way over to her side of the property and killed one pecan tree and damaged some flowers.. i've just been diagnosed with ptsd and great depression over this whole incident.. i can't sleep and can't eat most of the time and i felt so bad that i left her a note on the back fence apoligizing and offering her $300.00 to cover the cost of the damage that was done to her side, but apparently she doesn't even want to deal with the issue anymore.. i feel really bad about her stuff dying.. she said i sprayed her plants and i didn't.. we never see her watering that side over there anymore and it's like she now wants it all to die for some reason?? maybe a lawsuit of some kind??

  23. jimmy says:

    burn yourself alive in their yard.

  24. [...] known parents who taught their children to be lawyers and selfish, lying cowards (I say this without accusation, but rather sadness—lying and fearing [...]

  25. elephantjournal says:

    There's nothing small about this situation, and my reaction to it has almost nothing to do with the $100, though I have only 5x that in my bank account on average. What's significant, and worthwhile here is that this situation has the power to help me refine my understanding of human nature and my actions based upon said understanding. I was brought up studying the notion of basic goodness. But human goodness as a foundation does not mean that, if confused, we're going to act honorably. Many folks in this world want to be happy, and are happy to be happy at others' expense, with a side of rationalization, if necessary.

    That's my lesson, here: trust less, see more, and know that basic goodness is fundamental, not action-based. ~ W.

  26. Arien says:

    If you think there is nothing small about this situation then you must have a pretty shallow life and the luxury of dwelling on trivial stuff. There are a lot of bad stuff in the world and this is not one of them. Just saying.

  27. theresia kuppers says:

    GOOD ONE !!!

  28. Lisa says:

    It's part of his own personal journey, the guy is trying to learn something about himself and life – nothing ever "small" about that, our primary task here some might say.

  29. Theresia Kuppers says:

    May be the tree was already there before you build the pool??

  30. theresia kuppers says:

    Wise advice !

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