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ASK AMY

Neighbors fret about divisive flag

Q. We’ve been living next door to a very good neighbor for almost 30 years. “Charles” is helpful and friendly, and we genuinely like him. His political views are 180 degrees different than ours.

Until now, it hasn’t been an issue, as we have plenty of other things to discuss (gardening, family, etc.), and we have kept our views to ourselves.

The problem is that he has hung a large flag (replacing the worn-out original with a new and even bolder model) a few feet from our backyard fence. This flag contains a message representing ideals which are abhorrent to us. No profanity,
just divisive and hurtful implications. I don’t think it’s an intentional attack on us or anything like that.

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We cannot avoid seeing and hearing it flapping in the wind any time we’re in our yard. It extends to about 10 feet from the ground, so it can’t be blocked from view. (No other neighbors can see it.)

Visitors to our home have commented: “What do you think about that flag?” “I could get rid of that for you — haha,” etc.

My husband and I don’t want to lose Charles’s friendship or ruin what has been a good relationship for years. But this is very upsetting to me, a constant reminder of the ugly divisions in our country.

I find myself avoiding my own yard (and feeling bad toward my neighbor).

What’s your advice?

TORN

A. You don’t provide any details about this flag, nor do you say what your personal politics are, so I am determined to envision this issue from a wide spectrum. (I’m proceeding on an assumption that this flag doesn’t contain words or a symbol that might incite violence, but that it represents ideas or values in direct opposition to your own.)

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You also don’t seem to have ever asked your neighbor if he could move the flag to another location in his yard, so it wasn’t flapping so distractingly close to your own.

We live in a country where everyone is free to let their freak flag fly, and where people like you and your neighbor can live cordially and peacefully side-by-side — each free to express themselves, or to stay quiet, if that is what you prefer to do.

Your options are to fly a flag or banner of your own, to express your own views directly or indirectly through a multitude of media, or to exercise your own freedom to keep your own thoughts to yourself.

I can’t tell you how to feel, but you might feel differently if you were able to reframe this.

“Tolerance” is a challenge to tolerate others’ freedom of expression, even if you find their actual views abhorrent.

So when friends ask you what you think of your neighbor’s flag, you can say, “Well, every day when I see it, I’m forced to appreciate the First Amendment. God bless America!”


Q. Recently there was an infidelity issue (on my part) between my husband and me. We are working on our marriage, and things appear to be getting much better.

When it first happened, he turned to his friends pretty upset and had the majority of them block me, etc.

His best friend doesn’t speak to me much anymore, but I did reach out to let him know that I do love him and his girlfriend and don’t want to lose them and hope they don’t hate me. He responded, stating that he isn’t making any judgment calls until he gives it time to see how my husband is feeling.

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When it comes time for me to see them (they all live out of state), do you have any advice for me on how to not feel uncomfortable, awkward, or scared?

I’m afraid they will hate me and will just be glaring at me with hatred the whole time.

NERVOUS

A. Your husband’s best friend responded to you honestly and responsibly. You also handled that encounter well.

Aside from that, it’s important for both you and your husband to convey that you are repairing your relationship, but that otherwise the inner workings of your marriage will remain private.


Q. “Had Enough” wrote to you about her daughter, whose high school friends rejected her, leading to her dropping out of school.

This weakness is what is wrong with this country today. You should have called her out; instead you coddled her.

DISAPPOINTED

A. I don’t think “calling out” a vulnerable person is necessarily helpful.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.