Where’s the humanity?

Signs of the times

If you were hoping for a run-down on vaccines you will have to wait a little while longer as I am going to take this opportunity to tell you about our water woes. I mentioned earlier how we employed a water diviner to ‘tell us’ where we should drill for water. I have been asked to report on how accurate the diviner was but can’t yet report on that either as we are still waiting for a resource consent to drill a hole. Hopefully I will be able to tell you something within a month, and very hopefully it will be positive news!

I mentioned in my post regarding the water diviner how we are wanting to reduce our reliance on shared water infrastructure. I could emphasise here that I will make best efforts to never again buy a property which critically relies on a shared resource because it is a nightmare. However, such a statement wouldn’t do the situation justice. I could say, I feel sick every time the water scheme comes up in any sort of discussion or correspondence, and that would get closer to the mark. Our recent experiences with the water scheme have highlighted both the complexities of rights over shared resources and infrastructure and the essential element of humanity in human interactions.

Back in June I was contemplating what we are trying to save in the COVID-19 world and came to a conclusion that saving the quality of humaneness, or ‘humanity’, is a critical goal; it is not sufficient to be human (or to have an economy), if we aren’t humane at the same time we will create a world in which we likely don’t want to live. I feel like my personal speed recognition of the importance of humanity as a practice has been pretty slow. Earlier in my work life I prided myself on being able to take emotion out of the picture and ‘do the job’. Now I realise that emotion is part of the picture, whether I like it or not. I try to remove the influence of my emotions wherever I don’t think they are relevant to the job, but I finally know that recognising the emotions of others is critical to success. I also know that although, as a scientist, one tries one’s best to being objective and rational, as a human being there is always at least a little bit of emotion tweaking the mechanism in the background.

The trigger for writing this post was a letter from our neighbour’s lawyer, telling us that we needed to remove a whole lot of infrastructure critical to getting water on our property. There was no justification provided in the letter, simply a statement that a proposed purchaser of that neighbouring property wanted all the infrastructure gone as a condition of sale. I received the letter, at 4.45pm on a Friday, and saw shades of red. My experience is that it seems quite common for lawyers to send challenging letters out at 4.45pm on a Friday,. Why do they do this? So that you can stew on it for the weekend? Do they think that will achieve a better result? I queried the lawyer as to the the basis on which she was requesting removal of the infrastructure; her response was that our lawyer should have checked whether it was legally situated on the property at the time of purchase.

The process since has included involving our lawyer, who turns out to be senior in the same firm and who got the requested papers immediately she asked for them (making me see bright crimson). It has also involved the original lawyer backing down with her request, although not stating that she has backed down, but moving on to query one tiny point and forgetting about all the other matters. Either the lawyer didn’t check the legal situation at all at the outset, or she did and was caught bullshitting. I would be so upset if I found my lawyer, or any other person acting on my behalf was behaving in this way. I can’t help wondering if the legal profession thinks that intimidatory tactics are the best approach because, so often, people will back down and you win by fair means or foul (this isn’t the only example I have of similar tactics used without basis). Where is the humanity in this process? Does the legal profession feel that humanity is an impediment to success?

Chris and I discussed over the dinner table what approach might have been more successful, at least from our point of view. One of the bottom lines would seem to be an effort to preserve and promote relationships between neighbours. Back on the humanity front, one doesn’t simply want to live next door to people, one would like to be on good terms with them. In fact, I have wondered how one could rent in an area before buying in order to find out about the neighbours in a neighbourhood. Presumably the neighbour who is selling doesn’t care about good terms, because he is selling. That approach could well backfire on him now given that the potential purchaser doesn’t like our legal infrastructure and we have no relationship incentive to move it.

The potential purchaser has also massively blotted his copybook. He came and talked with us about the infrastructure, we were very (too?) open. He presumably took an inaccurate representation of the conversation to his lawyer, who passed it on, and in a game of Chinese whispers the infrastructure’s location and purpose appeared to move. Two weeks after we received the initiating letter, the potential new owner sent a long text saying he didn’t want to get offside with us. It’s unfortunate he didn’t tell us he was taking the matter through the legal process, he just shut down the discussions without explanation when we were due to meet with him again. We can’t help but think that now he is losing the battle to remove the water system legally he realises he might have to be nice to us.

Why couldn’t we have all originally sat down and discussed what we want to achieve and, related to that, what the easements are, what infrastructure is present and whether there are any options around where it could be placed? We can certainly understand that people may not want an ugly old concrete tank on their property and pipes running over the surface (infrastructure as created by the original owners, including the current neighbour). We could potentially shift the infrastructure onto our land. But do we want to, for either the current or potential new owner? Not at present! Will we give away anything to a lawyer? Absolutely no way! To us, invoking this legal approach early in the piece was akin to a declaration of war without any preliminary skirmish.

I think there are many situations where we resort to using professionals to ‘solve’ problems for us, because we are too busy, or too scared to encounter other humans and work through conflict. As a result we don’t solve the problems we have and create some new ones. In particular, this happens where professionals choose to forget about humanity in the course of their actions. Should we resort to mediators more readily than to lawyers? To ethicists rather than economists? As we continue to circle the drainpipe of whether to ‘live with COVID-19’ as a result of an open border, or to ‘live without COVID-19’ through an elimination strategy, humanity needs to remain front and centre in our debate.

Someone’s father making a Dad joke

Published by janecshearer

I'm a self-employed life enthusiast living in Gibbston, New Zealand

One thought on “Where’s the humanity?

  1. Lawyers: My initial reaction was to condemn them all out of hand. Not a very humane or forgiving response. It is entirely possible that there are some nice ones out there – I look forward to meeting them.

    Neighbours – we have experienced both extremes here – four brilliant, amazing, lovely chatty neighbours with whom we readily resolve any issues – including issues that involve money. But sadly, one neighbour who readily discusses what is to be done and then makes a token effort achieving nothing.

    I agree, humanity first!

    Thanks Jane

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