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Monday question: Neighbors and strangers

Posted by Robin Abrahams  August 15, 2011 06:35 AM

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What do you think of this question, folks? 

I was born and raised in Boston, but I moved to Philadelphia for school a few years back. For about two years, I've been living in a row house on a fairly quiet block in South Philly. I don't know any of the neighbors well, but they're mostly middle aged or older and have been here for years. Our street also has one unofficial resident- a homeless man who hangs out on the bench outside a house up the street from me. I've seen him nearly every day since I moved in, and he even welcomed me to the neighborhood my first week here. He's obviously slightly off, but he never bothers anyone- he sits on the bench and says hello to people who pass by, and occasionally in the summer asks for a drink of water (never money). 

The problem is this: A young woman just moved into the house next to the bench-owner, and after seeing me give him a drink one day, asked me to stop. She said that having him so close to her house makes her very uncomfortable as she lives alone, and she doesn't want to encourage him to keep coming back. Her next door neighbor had refused to tell him he couldn't sit there. I said that in the time I'd lived here I hadn't heard of him giving anyone any trouble, but she insisted he made her uneasy. I don't think this man is dangerous. I know I'm not the only one who gives him drinks, and a few people even invite him inside sometimes. I do understand why she's nervous having a homeless man sitting right outside her house everyday, and if he was asking for change or cigarettes, I would probably stop giving them, no problem. I don't feel right ignoring her request, but giving someone water in the middle of the summer is such a basic kindness that I don't feel right ignoring his either. What do you think?

What's your advice? I'll post my response on Friday -- and we've got a live chat scheduled for Wednesday, so come join me then!
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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