Having enjoyed a working relationship with the HOA Board in my suburban Texas neighborhood for two years prior to this summer, when approached to consider replacing one of the two departing members, I thought about it for awhile and decided that it was time for me to put up or shut up. I filed the necessary paperwork and became a candidate. I had no idea that this simple choice would turn into one of the most difficult of my life experiences since moving here to Texas but it did. As with most difficult things I encounter, I deal with them through writing. Having done a fair amount in my personal journals, I’m ready to put out there what the experiences taught me.
Earlier this spring the Board had announced that we as a neighborhood would need to vote on some newly updated governing documents they and another committee had been working on for some time. After the process was announced to the neighborhood, communication increased from the Board itself and among neighbors. One day I discovered a flyer on the community mailbox. There was no name or address on it, just a strongly worded instruction to READ the documents before voting and notations as to why that would be necessary. At first I ignored the flyer but when it arrived in my door with an email address on it, I sent an inquiry to the neighbor to discover what all the fuss was about. Big mistake.
What followed was a cordial dialogue for several emails and then as if out of the blue, I was told that I had drank the KoolAid, was actually just a liaison for the current Board, was a disappointment in light of what this neighbor had discovered about me online and that my brain was so compromised that I would be of no use to the neighborhood. (all my best recollection as I have deleted the conversation). I was so shocked and angry with this man’s insults that without much thought, I replied with this. ”Because of your experience in the military I am certain you can take this, F you!” Then shaking I told my husband about the conversation and asked him to read the emails. I was livid.
I am known to drop the F-bomb on occasion in private but have never, ever used the word in a conversation like this before. I just don’t do that. As a result, I was immediately filled with the most complex feelings of both intense pride at my own self defense and regret that I had actually said that to someone I don’t even know. I didn’t expect to ever think about this guy again. Wrong. More later.
Apparently I was on a roll to offend at the time because prior to the above discussion with one neighbor, I had been a participant in several discussions on our neighborhood Facebook page about the new governing documents and issues related to the process. Some of the discussions were heated and, as all social media posts can become, hurtful to some. At one point in a discussion that seemed endless, I asked another neighbor to let something go because I believed that her concerns had been acknowledged by those in the discussion and that none of us had the power do act on those concerns beyond that. It felt exhausting to keep going over the same topic.
My “instruction” was similar to pouring a cup of gas on a bed of hot coals. Boom. I had overreached and taken a position of authority over this person that I should not have. It was public and demeaning of me to do that. The next day I acknowledge that and issued a public apology on the page. I sincerely felt remorse and decide that because I did I would drop the neighbor an added personal note of apology. For me, it was how I had owned my stuff and moved on. What I did not know is that in our personal messaging between one another, somehow I only added to her pain and much to my surprise, she came to believe that I was diagnosing her with a mental illness. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Having a daughter who lives with mental illness and having worked in a treatment center for girls with mental illnesses, I was beyond mortified that my words would be interpreted in that way. But the ship, as they say, had sailed. I felt terrible. I tried to move on and hoped that at some point in the future we could talk face to face and resolve things in person. I had so much to learn.
What follows is the result of things that took place as a result of the two people I offended taking their offenses with me into the public arena. Oblivious to this I had already determined to no longer promote my candidacy for the Board position but to allow it to take its own course. I stopped interaction on social media and waited for the election to be over secretly hoping not to be elected but not sure how I would deal with a defeat either. Making mistakes and doing things we regret are hard enough but when those things are used against you without your knowledge, it is especially difficult.
Thinking that neighbor one’s email conversation with me was trivial, insignificant and private, I was completely taken back when I discovered that this man took a copy of our conversation and showed it to others even going so far as to try to convince a Board member that “someone like me did not belong on the HOA Board”. After the election was over I discovered that he had told others that I had said, “F you” to him. I couldn’t believe it was real but it was.
As if that wasn’t enough to blow me away, the woman who is certain I had diagnosed her with a mental illness posted the details of her experience with me on Facebook and told neighbors NOT to vote for me. She added that I wrote her an unsolicited snail mail letter. Seriously.
The white male ego of men closer to my own age is something I’m so familiar with that I’m often blinded to it. Unfortunately when the scales fall off and I’m hit with the full light of it, my response of FU is to be expected. I must learn to see it in its infancy and proceed with necessary caution. I see now that I need to be prepared to publicly call out abuse in the beginning before someone has a chance to gaslight others by crafting an alternate narrative that frames me as the abuser.
Words are powerful. Social media appears innocent, positive and a good place to discuss reality. I must learn to be more aware of the futility of beating a topic to death myself and especially to demand that another to let go of her hammer while I cling to my own.
I have learned that humans are all fragile. Regardless of military experience, intellectual prowess and skillful communication enterprises, at the end of the day we all just want validation, belonging and to be heard.