You know that feeling you get when something gets under your skin and you have to act? All your muscles feel tingly, you can’t speak or write fast enough to get all the thoughts out? It’s the feeling that parents get when someone hurts their kids. It’s the feeling that friends get when someone speaks poorly of another friend. It’s the feeling that spouses get when something bad happens to the other partner. It’s the feeling that you know you might be stirring up more trouble, but somehow it’s worth the risk.
What could possibly arouse such intensity of emotion from seemingly calm little me? What if I said it was an online conversation amongst residents of our suburban neighborhood over street safety? WHAAAT? I’m still sitting here, thinking about how I had to stand up for a good friend’s comments about driving safety as it relates to children, and wondering how and why this conversation went in the direction it did in the first place. I’m also wondering why there seems to be so much drama every time an issue like this comes up in our neighborhood forum. Months will go by, posts will be about upcoming events like jewelry parties or holiday gatherings, or questions about community recommendations for good plumbers, doctors, or electricians. It’s a very useful and productive site when we use it that way.
Every now and then, and I guess we’re in a “now”, something comes up that starts off as an innocent comment, and then it just spins out of control. A few days ago, a concerned neighbor wrote about the need for neighbors to help each other remember to slow down as they drive through the streets of our community, especially as there are many children at play and coming to and from school bus stops and visiting each other’s houses. Surely we could all agree about that, right?
Yes, and no. Of course everyone agrees that some drivers go too fast, and that needs to change. Not everyone agreed with how that should happen. Suggestions of speed bumps, new “children at play” signs, lower speed limits, police patrol, and a simple waving at neighbors to slow down when they are speeding. Waving at speeding neighbors was discounted because apparently there have been some, ahem, un-neighborly responses from the fast drivers. Speed bumps got a varied response. Police patrollers had been asked to “back off” by some residents after several tickets were issued for speeding. Comments started drifting in asking what to do about unattended kids who don’t pay close attention to moving vehicles, or bikers without helmets, or kids darting into the streets.
The conversation then tail-spun into a heated debate over the danger or lack thereof, of letting children ride on a driver’s lap “at slow speeds” and “just for a short distance”. I won’t beat around the bush. I think there is no “safe speed” or “short enough distance” that justifies a small child riding on the driver’s lap. One neighbor, a retired fire lieutenant, cited many examples of air bags deploying even upon light car impact, and killing children who were not where they ought to have been. Is getting kids into their car seats and seat belts a chore sometimes? Do they cry and fuss and is it annoying and difficult? Yes, but at least I know they will be as safe as possible, and that they are learning life-long lessons about being safe and responsible drivers and passengers. A few months ago, another neighbor was rear-ended in the roundabout in the front of our community by a criminal in a stolen car, who was trying to evade police. She and her two small children were properly restrained, and no harm was done. What if she had been holding a child on her lap, or one or both had not been wearing seat belts?
Off the soapbox about car safety, back to the drama. Instead of seeing that we are trying to look out for neighbors who might not be making the wisest choices when it comes to keeping their kids safe–and doing it regularly and in plain sight–there are harsh words, foul language, anger towards the ones trying to present facts and concern. It hurts. In this neighborhood, everyone has more than we need. We all feel the pinch of daily costs, bills, and life events, but in the grand scheme of things, we all are truly well off. Has it come to this? When one or two show concern, they get their heads bitten off? I also wonder, how would this conversation have been different if it had happened in person? Is this an example of how technology hurts instead of helps? I, for one, am exponentially bolder on paper, but do complex mental gymnastics to avoid face-to-face confrontation or conflict.
The Bible verses we read tonight as a family were not written with home owners’ associations or gated communities in mind, but they seem to fit quite well: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” This comes from the words of the apostle Paul to the church in Galatia. Timeless words, aren’t they? Think of the true sense of community, as God intended. Certainly, not everyone in our neighborhood is united by Christ, but everyone can and should remember to treat others the way we each would want others to treat us. How easy it is to get caught up in words, thoughts, opinions, and how easy it is to see lines of division appear. How easy it is, then, for what could be a loving, helpful community sink into just another divided place.
I don’t want drama in my neighborhood. In the big picture, this is a drop in the bucket. But, I had to stand up for my friends who had been the brunt of some unkind words. I always pray that my words, whether spoken or written, might be kind, useful, helpful, encouraging, forgiving, pleasant, and patient. I also pray that all the drama blows over quickly, with no hard feelings, with better understanding of each other, with respect. Our words are powerful, no matter the form they take.