Social Responsibility

September 21, 2005

As members of a society we all agree to an unwritten contract that defines our conduct with others. Break some of the contracts clauses and you'll be considered eccentric. Break major clauses and you run afoul of the law and go to jail. (Unless you happen to be "corporate citizen.") Who is the judge and jury that enforces this social contract? You and I, of course.

At present my wife and I live underneath and apartment rented by a immature couple. He is in his mid-twenties and sells cars for his family's business. She has admitted to only being twenty-one and works for (not as) a local realty firm. Since we looked at that particular apartment when we moved in here, I know that it rents for nearly 1500 dollars a month. He drives a sports car, and they recent bought a Oldsmobile Bravada for her to drive. In the two months since they've moved in there has been a steady stream of high-end purchases delivered: a large screen TV, new furniture, and a $400 purebred miniature dachshund.

There has also been a steady stream of beer and wine. Every time we see either of them they are carrying a glass or a bottle. The ground outside our common area is frequently littered with empty beer bottles or cans, and they seem to think that the lawn makes a fine ashtray for their cigarette butts. While the trash and toxic waste are irksome we haven't really said anything to them or the apartment management figuring that it was too small a thing to get all worked up about.

Unfortunately there is a large problem and has interfered with our lives, and one that has caused us to take action. Domestic violence. (Which is an entirely too passive and demure term for the rage and anger happening more and more frequently above our heads.) The first incident that we were aware of happened around midnight on a Saturday six weeks ago. Yelling, screaming, slamming of doors. It ended with the girl sitting on the concrete stoop outside their front door. My wife, a former domestic abuse counselor, ventured just outside our door to talk to this woman for about an hour that night.

Two nights ago it happened again. This time we could plainly hear verbal threats, and several loud crashes through the floor. Just when we were ready to call the police the fight stopped, and she left. Minutes later he stormed out and left in his car. As he rocketed back past the building on the main road you could hear that he was driving well in excess of any safe speed. He was back in twenty minutes; we figure he had gone to get more alcohol.

The sticky part of this mess for us is what to do. As responsible citizens do we have an obligation to intervene, if only to call the police? If you were to see a fight on a street corner or at work, you'd call the authorities right away. But when it happens behind closed doors in a home, we all pretend that it isn't our business. Do the rules of society stop at the threshold?

In the end we approached the apartment management to inform them about the situation. They were aware that something had happened as he had called them to say he was replacing an interior door that had been broken. The management said that should this happen again during business hours to call the office, and they would in turn inform the police. Michele and I are resolved to call the police should it happen after hours too.

I cannot, and Michele cannot, sit by and allow a dangerous situation to spiral further out of control. The rage we heard through the ceiling two nights ago isn't going to go away on its own, and left unchecked will escalate into physical violence. One or both of the people upstairs is going to end up hurt, in the hospital, or dead. Already we have noted that the woman always wears long pants and long sleeved shirts. On one occasion when we knocked on their door to have the television turned down, she was wearing dark glasses.

The most important words in our Constitution are, "We the people...", meaning that you and I are the power in our society. Government is there to manage and control the commons, but ordinary citizens have to stand up for and defend the social mores and standards. Otherwise we'll all slowly sink into lawlessness and social anarchy.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.