On Boundary Setting and Backyards – Marc MacYoung


First things first. There is NO one, right answer. Nor is there a single answer that covers everything. Pretty much everything is on a sliding scale and depending on circumstances (I liken the idea to a slide rule, different factors, when aligned give different answers.)

Second, I can tell you the American example I use to explain this. In much of the US houses with surrounding property are common. It is only in areas with limited space that there are homes like those commonly found in Europe (shared walls, micro-yards, etc.). So start with the image of a home in the middle of a property. A property that abuts street, alley, and two other properties.

The two properties on either side are other peoples. The street is a public/shared space. While the alley is also, that’s not normally a well used throughway — in fact is, it’s locals and services (i.e. garbage pick up, phone and electrical linemen, and city workers) that use it.

Now leading from the street to your front door is a walk way. Unless you have a fence with a ‘no trespassing’ sign, this path is how someone, including a stranger will ‘correctly’ come onto your property to knock on your door. There are rules of conduct about doing this. Rule people subconsciously know and follow. Like for example a stranger coming onto your property uninvited comes up this walk way. And ONLY this walkway.

Now before we go further, there’s something to look at. Your front yard is in one way the public boundary. Stay on the walkway. Your back yard is a lot less open for folks to walk into (basically it should only be your neighbors that you know from that direction). Side yards, pretty much limited to that neighbor and maybe a gas meter reader. Then there’s the front door. People stop at it unless they are invited in. Once inside the house, they’re only allowed in certain parts without invitation. So a stranger doesn’t come into your backyard, enter through the back door and walk into your bedroom. Your spouse does. Got it? Sliding scale of circumstance and relationships.

You gotta consciously know the scale. Which puts you miles ahead of most people. Knowing the scale, when a stranger comes walking onto you property from the alley claiming to be selling magazine subscriptions, something is way the fuck off.

I’m a big fan of giving people permission to say ‘Hold it, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I know something isn’t right.” This gives people permission to put the action on hold until more intell can be gathered. But I’m an even bigger fan of knowing what is off — and knowing that the individual is doing to escalate the circumstances he needs to attack — and knowing that is a game changer.

While it is considered rude to answer your front door with a gun in your hand. Talking through the back door with a gun in your hand and telling a supposed magazine salesman to leave your property is not. He’s got no business being where he is. Same goes if he’s on the side of the house trying to open the window.

I often talk to people about scaling their response. Shooting at someone who walks onto the grass of your front yard is in appropriate. So to is yelling profanities and threats. Asking them politely to leave your property is more appropriate. On the other hand a guy rushing onto your property screaming he’s going to kill you while waving an ax … well, let’s just say polite isn’t going to work. So you have to scale your response to the circumstances.

Here’s some more information on the subject of boundary setting

On NNSD I talk about the five stages of violent crime. I talk about the interview is a time where the criminal is testing your boundaries to see if you’re safe to attack.

What people don’t seem to get is that setting polite boundaries is kind of a reverse interview. Like police use ask/tell/order to establish a pattern on non-compliance, setting degrees of boundaries that the person ignores and continues establishes a pattern of non-compliance. This allows you to articulate both that you tried appropriate social responses and his aggressive behavior pattern. A pattern that indicated this was not a normal situation and why you reasonably believed circumstances dictated that use of force was necessary.

But having said all this, let’s flip it around. What if you’re on the other person’s property? Those same standards apply to you, no matter how justified you think you are for not listening to the other person’s boundary setting.

Now take it and put it in the middle of the street. How does that change things?

Simply stated before you can tell if something is abnormal, you have to know what normal is. One of the biggest problems you’ll have if you have to defend yourself is explaining to people why it was necessary. right off the bat know this, somebody is going to be unhappy with your use of force decision. In fact, there are people whose job it is to be professionally unhappy. These people will crawl up your ass with a microscope looking for the slightest way to say you did wrong.

Raw unpalatable truth they don’t usually have to look that hard, odds are good you did screw up — if you gave into your emotional monkey brain and tried to scare the other guy off by doing threat displays, calling him names and (insulting) and threatening him with violence. That’s another good reason to understand violence dynamics. Not only will you not do things likely to provoke violence, but you won’t do things to undermine your claim of self-defense. (Like walking off your property and confronting someone on his)

Remember those people who are looking to find anything you might have done wrong so they can nail you? Yeah, welcome to our legal system. As a friend of mine says the Law is A. The legal system is B – Z. When someone has to answer to his/her boss why you’re not in the slam or his or her career depends on numbers of convictions, you had damned well better be able to explain how it was self-defense and you had no other choice.

But perhaps the most important element of understanding violence dynamics is that you can convince your own lawyer that it really was self-defense. Which believe me, is more important than you know.

Leave a Reply