That has been the topic that has been occupying my mind, heart, body and soul throughout my life, but has come on the forefront recently in the context of dealing with very difficult neighbours.
These neighbours have been harassing me since I finally got my own place, which I want to create into a peaceful oasis for myself, my animals and the community I have been building in Croatia.
The problems intensified late autumn. Not only have they been harassing me through threatening, bad mouthing, insulting, as well as calling different authorities, including police, the last thing they did around Christmas was throwing a big pile of dog shit on the fence separating the properties, and on my yard. The same day they also destroyed the property of another neighbour.
That time I called the police. They were not very interested, as they saw it as a neighbour dispute that didn’t have an element of disturbing public peace and order, or a criminal offence, and hence not of their concern. This confirmed the neighbour’s understanding that she had all the right to throw all the shit she wanted on what she claimed was her fence. She was not challenged in this view, and neither was she challenged in respect to what she did to another neighbour. On the other hand, the police took her false complaints (against the person close to me) seriously, and I ended up having an unpleasant conversation with the police officer on the New Year’s Eve, who explained that if he had come for intervention with respect to dog shit, he would have had arrested both of us, as is – as he said – the protocol in the cases of domestic violence!!!. While initially I wanted to give a detailed account of all the events in this blog (and indeed I did need first to write everything down), I decided to skip it.
But I do need to share my feelings, as otherwise I feel like a powerless, voiceless victim. I feel like we as a society have had only two ways to deal with injustice: to fight withing a system that often victimises us in the fight, or let it go, “accept”. Neither of this I see as productive, either for myself or for the society.
I am exhausted of fighting for justice and I have not seen it produce results. So lately I tried “accepting”. But what is accepting, why do I put it in under inverted commas? Accepting requires believing that what is happening is not the only reality and that there is some universal justice at play in suffering we are undergoing and that we grow from all experiences that we have. It helps us come out of the role of the victim. But it has to come from trust, rather than fear, from active will, rather than apathy.
And yesterday, after I received the note on police intervention which I requested, which again was not on line with (my) truth, I fell into apathy. My decision not to react was not true to what I was feeling, but came from the feeling of powerlessness to change anything. So today I decided to react, to give myself a voice, even if nobody (in position of power) would listen. Because our words do create the world. Our experiences matter. Not only do we learn from them, but our learnings can benefit the others.
So, what did I learn?
I have no control of other people’s behaviour, but I do have control over myself. I do have a choice to decide what is more important, pursuing justice and being right, or having a peace of mind? Feeling small, insignificant and violated due to other people’s behaviour or knowing my own worth? Feeling overwhelmed by the power of authorities (potentially to screw you, as I have often observed in my human rights work) or stepping into my own power?
I have also observed systemic problems, including specific legal problems with the (criminal justice) system. From what I observed in the interactions with the police (also in the context of my research) is that even those who see problems feel constrained with the dominant practice, but don’t feel as being able to change it. I see that in any system I am observing: it does not support people who want to change things for the better.
So the police has to act when anybody calls them and knowing that this is a lot of time outside their competencies, they don’t take much interest in helping to solve the situation (which really is often beyond their competencies and duties). So they took it very similarly when she called them claiming I was not an owner (clearly not for police, even if it were true) and when I called reported throwing the shit in a context of a long term harassment. For them, this is just another story of the neighbours dispute. And indeed it is, all stories that come to the attention of the authorities are some stories of broken relationships, which people are unable to solve themselves. But in some cases, people are sanctioned, and in others they are not and often this creates further injustice itself. For example, when a neighbour is bothered by a loud music and calls the police, it is most likely that this will be treated as a misdemeanour against public order and peace, as this is a settled practice. However, throwing shit will not be treated as such. When I asked why, I got an answer that loud music disturbed the public peace and order because it can be heard by ‘public’, while shit on the fence does not as it is in the private yard (though shit could have also be seen by ‘public’ from the public path), even when it is a method of harrassment. While in both cases at issue is really a conflict between individuals, the protected good is public peace and order, and in one situation is not (yet) problematised from this perspective.
I understand that we cannot change the laws, but can we not be creative in whatever policies and laws we are supposed to be implementing as a part of our work? And this is not only a question for the police. It is a question for any of us in any institution we work in. Do we want to bethe soldiers of the often-corrupt system or do we want to be artists, co-creators of the society we live in?
And as a society, what are the values we are safeguarding? In the context of the misdemeanour act, what is the public order and peace we want to establish and maintain? Do we really want to give fines to a woman who is sunbathing in her yard, topless? Do we want to give fines to the homless, beggars, sex workers and other marginalised communities? On the other hand, do we want to turn a blind eye to the harassment and abuse? (When I shared the bits of my story, a lot of people came out with the stories of harassment by neighbours that no institution helped them solve). Generally, in the criminal justice system, do we want the focus to be on policing the most vulnerable, and reacting with serious punishment when things go really bad or when the event attracts some big (media) attention? What is the purpose of this system? And what is the purpose of the social services system if it cannot find a way to take care of a paralysed person who has been living alone in the house without electricity and water, the case near Zagreb I recently learnt about.
How do we deal with the conflicts and suffering in our societies? Why do we predominantly not care? And how should we care? As mentioned above, the two dominant responses are either fighting and proving who is right (in front of the authorities and under the threat of some form of punishment) or giving up, trying not to care, even if this is part of your job description.
Recently, I have come across an academic course Love as a force of social justice. It promotes agape, a form of love which has two components: compassion – the drive to elevate suffering, and loving kindness – the drive to promote happiness, as a force in social justice, as a way of living and relating in this world.
I have just done lesson one, but my first thoughts are that this practice indeed has a possibility of bringing up sustainable change. Using it in all our interactions would first probably significantly reduce the interpersonal conflicts, but second, in the cases of conflict, there would be more readiness and preparedness by the social justice institutions to deal with it.
It would require radical rethinking of law, justice, state, community. The purpose of state institutions would not be simply to implement relevant polices and laws (even when they seem utterly unjust) but to solve the interpersonal conflicts, to establish trust and connection among people, and people and institutions.
In my case, I have not only felt violated by the neighbours but by the state institutions. If I choose to react from hurt, I will be fighting. If I choose to relate from agape, I will send love to all the shadows in me, neighbours and the society and will put them on the light of the day. This is such an attempt.
The time has come where we can no longer hide the shadows. They are lurking from everywhere, seeking to be embraced. We can longer hide under laws, policies, job descriptions, superiors. We need to take responsibility for every interaction we are in. And we need to form the circles of support, the circles of caring, of compassion and loving-kindness.