“Dear neighbour. How can you own a house and not take care of your lawn?” laments one mom in my Facebook group, who is outraged at being forced to look at long grass.
“It’s probably renters. They don’t own the house so they don’t care,” offers another mom.
“If they can’t take care of their lawns, they should move to a condo.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re just lazy.”
“I’m a busy person and I manage to keep my lawn looking nice.”
Who knew that an extra few inches of grass could cause such hardship? The sight of an unkempt lawn frequently causes an uprising in my mom group. It’s as though the neighbours’ overzealous greenery is a targeted affront to their personal well-being.
I get it on some level. A house is an investment, and no one likes to look out their window and see an urban jungle. I can especially understand the frustration if someone is trying to sell a house, and the sloppy look of the neighbouring homes is affecting market value. It’s not the feelings of annoyance I take umbrage with—it’s the judgment.
Inevitably, these ‘Dear neighbour who isn’t in this group’ open letter posts are met with polarizing responses. In contrast to the mob with pitchforks, an equal number of moms come forward to point out that there may be a reason the lawn is not mowed in a timely manner. Perhaps the family is going through a difficult time. Maybe the person is ill or injured. Maybe they could just use some understanding.
Of course, this is no excuse to the mower masses. Many are sure the family is fine because they see them every day going places. Or that everyone goes through hard times, but it isn’t an excuse to subject your neighbours to it. Or the popular opinion that if they can’t keep a lawn neat, they should hire someone or move (as though it were that easy). There are no excuses, and there will be no closure since the subject of their disdain is not present and thus unable to defend themselves.
So, why am I talking about lawns, you might be wondering by now. There are more pressing things happening in the world than who is feuding with whom over the length of a patch of grass. I’m glad you asked! I’m bringing it up because it isn’t about the lawn—it’s about compassion.
You see, I have seen people humiliated by neighbours who put the aesthetics of the house next door over the well-being of the people within it. You can’t always tell by looking who is okay and who is not. Sometimes, your neighbour is going through hell, while they give a friendly wave from their driveway.
You may not see that behind the closed door, there is a person struggling. A person who is using everything they have just to get through the day. A person for whom mowing the lawn regularly falls below mounting weight on their priorities list. Behind that door is a person.
They know the lawn is awful. They know you are looking at them with disdain. They wish their worries were as trivial as long grass. They need your compassion, not your condemnation.
Before you call the city and report them, before you leave a nasty note on their door and humiliate them, before you take to the internet to call them out—pause. Think about what you hope to accomplish by taking these actions. Is it a trim lawn? Try putting down your phone and picking up your mower. Show them an act of kindness and mow their lawn, or knock on their door and ask if they need help maintaining it.
The truth is that small things have big effects. For someone in a crisis, how you handle their long lawn will stick with them forever. A nasty note or a report to the city could break them. But an outreach from a neighbour, a show of compassion, a worry crossed off their list, well, that could help give them the strength to keep going.
It’s true, your neighbour might just be lazy. Lazy people exist. But when it comes down to it, what is the worst thing that happens when you reach out to a lazy neighbour? You’ve done a good deed, and that’s never wasted, is it?