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The Last Windrow: Let's all practice the art of getting along

Don't burn your bridges. You might want to get back across that creek someday.

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Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

"Here's his house keys. You deal with him!"

Farm life taught the lesson that one must try to avoid hard disagreements in order to get along with your neighbors. Oh, there were ways one could express his or her displeasure, but it was usually done in a atmosphere that wouldn't burn any bridges.

After all, cutting off a neighbor for what one could argue as an infraction of common law could impact the response you might receive the next time you needed to borrow an extra wagon or tractor. The art of "getting along" was kind of important.

Our neighbor, Mike, who ran a mom-and-pop country gas station, was an expert in avoiding arguments in regard to his business. He had customers who always paid their charge accounts. Then there were others who didn't practice that exercise and chose to ignore the monthly statements Mike sent.

At times those unpaid bills ended up to be six months or more old. Rather than get into an argument with these non-paying folks, Mike and his wife practiced the art of treading around the edge of the situation.

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They might invite the late-paying individual in for a cup of coffee and a piece of the wife's homemade cake or a piece of pie. Or Mike might grab a cold bottle of pop out of the water-filled cooler and offer it for free to this person on a hot day.

Tact was being practiced.

Somewhere in those conversations the subject of the unpaid bill would come up. Usually, after the subject had enjoyed the cake or bottle of cream soda, the owner would subtly slide in a comment like, "You know my invoices are coming due in a couple of days and I need to collect some of my receivables soon. I appreciate your business and just wondered if you could pay down your account."

No threats of foreclosure, no mentioning turning the account over to a collection agency, no raising of the voice. Just a calm, cool heavy suggestion.

Sometimes a ray of sunshine would jam through the clouds of the non-paying party's conscience. "Gee, is my bill that old? You should have mentioned that to me before! I'll go get my checkbook," they would reply, seeming to blame the gas station owner for charging them in the first place.

Sometimes payment happened, sometimes it didn't, but a hot argument was avoided and a customer was retained for better or worse.

The art of avoiding an argument seems to be lacking in the world I live in today. It seems that many folks are looking for a reason to start an argument no matter how it affects the social well-being of their community or their country.

Social ties and constructive language seem to have been put on the back burner.

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Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

The words I began this column with came from one of two of my former neighbors. I was on a city council and these two had been friends for years. They even shared their house keys with each other during their time away from home.

That was until one of them decided to put an addition on his lake house. Even though zoning approved the addition, one of the neighbors somehow took offense to the building project and chose to start an argument. It ended with the two never talking to each other again.

In fact they both moved to other locations far away from each other and I ended up with the keys for both houses!

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My old friend Mike at the gas station could have taught these two stubborn homeowners a lesson in how to get along.

Don't burn your bridges. You might want to get back across that creek someday.

And, I really don't want your house keys.

See you next time. Okay?

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