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Social Graces: When it snows, your neighbors don’t shovel. What should you do?

Hannah Herrera Greenspan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Q: Your neighbors won’t shovel the snow on the sidewalk in front of their building. How should you handle this?

A: While there’s not much one can do to prevent a snowstorm from blanketing your city, town or neighborhood, there is something one can do to prevent uncomfortable or hard feelings toward neighbors who won’t shovel snow on their sidewalk: Extend human kindness and connection.

Many people have been isolated this past year due to the pandemic. Reach out and extend an introduction if you haven’t yet. Are they elderly, a single parent, disabled or a caregiver for multiple generations? Might they have an erratic work schedule, or work several jobs or shifts? Ask if they need a helping hand, and let them know that you’re concerned about their safety as well as the safety of their visitors and delivery services.

If they mention they’ve been meaning to do the job, offer to help start the process. If you get the impression they’ll need assistance on a regular basis, offer to help with service ideas or make a game plan. Suggest you’d be happy to forward contact information of a reputable snow removal service, or neighborhood teens who offer these services. If finances seem to be of concern, perhaps rally other neighbors to take turns helping out on a rotating basis.

In addition, many cities and towns have local snow removal volunteer groups or neighborhood committees that are formed just for this purpose; these may be viable options for your neighbor or others in your neighborhood, especially if aid will be needed routinely or if they don’t shovel at all. Lean in to kindness and community; they’re keys to serving and connecting you and your neighbors well.

— Angie Allison, etiquette expert and founder of Daily Protocol

 

A: It’s always frustrating to encounter someone who doesn’t seem to be putting as much work into something as you are.

At the risk of sounding like a flowery children’s book, I think it’s important to acknowledge here that everyone is different. Even people who live next door to each other can have very different needs, schedules, priorities and amounts of physical and mental bandwidth. While the sight of their unplowed sidewalk might spark valid anger, I’d make space to genuinely consider why they might not be able to shovel, trying to keep tempting words like lazy or selfish out of our considerations.

Of course the annoying answer I’m headed toward here is: I think it’s best to shovel it yourself. Am I saying this as an apartment-dwelling lessee who hasn’t had to pick up a spade since Midwestern adolescence? Yes. Do I still stand by it? I think so. It’s an act of goodwill. It builds character. It’s its own karmic reward.

If those fatherly aphorisms aren’t enough to convince you, consider this: Shoveling their sidewalk for them paves the groundwork of good-neighborliness for a productive conversation in the future. If this does become a regular occurrence and you’d like to see them contribute, contact them through the least intrusive means you have available (a text is best; a note in the mailbox works too). Keep what you say focused on how you feel, rather than what they’ve done or not done. “You should be shoveling your sidewalk, how could you be so inconsiderate?” can only prompt defensiveness. “I feel frustrated that I have to shovel both of our sidewalks” creates an invitation to empathize with your experience.

— Jack Disselhorst, writer and actor

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