Find out the backstory before reacting |

Find out the backstory before reacting

Staff Photo |

When it comes to people, I’m an optimist. But sometimes things go awry. I think things tend to diverge from optimal for one of three reasons: ignorance, negligence or malice. This might be helpful for a few reasons: it’s a shrinking planet with tenuous resources; there are more of us to bump into; and from time to time, our respective agendas deviate. That’s how conflict is born, but that’s life. At the very least, we ought to be able to unveil what’s going on behind the scenes. When we can identify which cause is at play, sometimes (not always, but sometimes), it makes complications easier to rectify, pardon and move forward with peaceful resolve.

True story. I recently facilitated a professional development seminar, and a participant in my audience brought up a scenario (loosely related to the point I was making at the time): His neighbor’s dog crapped in his yard — again. But why? Was the neighbor ignorant of the fact? Did she know and neglect to take action? Did she know and was she driven by some deviant poo-inspired ill will? Gathering information plays a significant role in determining the best course of action for a peaceful resolution.

If the dog was roaming the neighborhood unleashed and unsupervised, presumably this would be a violation of most town ordinances. But if the neighbor was unaware of the law, she would be ignorant. In her defense, she simply did not know. She should have known, but suppose she beamed down from some secluded planet in outer space — where dogs roam free to “make” wherever they please. His course of action, assuming he knew it was her dog, might be to tactfully explain the town ordinance on this planet requiring dogs be leashed within town limits. If the dog were at least supervised, she would know when her insensitive pooch had done business in his yard — and she could promptly clean it up. If he further explained how his young children play on the grass in his small yard, and her dog’s disgusting turds are a health hazard — she might feel further inclined to do the right thing from then on.

If the dog were under her supervision — leashed or not, and she simply chose not to clean up after herself (or did the covert faux pick-up, vaguely hovering her baggied hand as to appear dutiful — pun intended), we could agree that she was negligent. She knew what was going on; she just wasn’t moved to do anything about it. The dog took a dump on his lawn. She knew — and did nothing. I would want to find out why. Had she recently been struck by a bus, or was she otherwise too impaired to bend over and clean up the evidence? Was she ill-prepared and found herself (embarrassingly enough) without an implement to scoop said poop from his yard? Had she seen her diligent pooch in the act and was suddenly distracted by some urgent emergency, like performing CPR or pulling small children from flame-engulfed buildings? Any of those scenarios might justify some measure of understanding.

And if the neighbor knowingly allowed her presumptuous pup to roam, freely evacuating willy-nilly (so-to-speak), his course of action might be to find out — why. Through a respectful inquiry, he might discover some unknown grievance that may have helped her to justify large amounts of uncollected crap on his yard. Perhaps he would discover that she simply doesn’t give a … damn. He could only benefit from this information.

When things divert from the ideal, we tend to jump to conclusions, over-react and react without all of the facts. Sometimes it’s helpful to simplify matters by finding out the backstory. With a little sensitivity, compassion and forgiveness, resolving people-problems can be as easy as picking up your dirty dog’s stinky mess.

— Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of, delivering hands-on organizational solutions for households, businesses, nonprofits, students, and life transitions. To comment or suggest column topics, visit the Facebook page “Intentional Solutions.” For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 366.2532 or email

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