Some months ago a friend suggested that I use the online product NextDoor.com to help me sell a large china cabinet. I hadn’t heard of it before, but signed up, somewhat reluctantly, handing over a lot of personal information (including my address and email) in order to be a more engaged part of my immediate neighborhood.
I posted the cabinet, got one inquiry. That was it. Then I began to get regularly inundated with messages about my neighborhood, by my neighbors. Some of it was mildly helpful, if not alarming (kids shooting BB guns, folks getting their windows soaped). Lots of ads about Match.com and local activists playing NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) about a homeless shelter that was proposed nearby.
Since I travel a lot, I don’t know many of my neighbors. Because of a tiff last year with one who’s a bully, I did walk to all the homes on my street and found out that I was hardly alone. It helped to know that there was universal agreement. I had some support if I wanted to keep him out of my yard going after my trees with a saw.
Beyond that, I’m at home working or out traveling.
Lady in a Terrorist Vest
I do, however exercise regularly in my neighborhood. When I was training for Kilimanjaro back in 2013, I used a black weighted vest and was walking down a major street in broad daylight when someone called the cops on me. The cop and I had a laugh fest. I took my vest to the police department, and they advised me that I was more at risk from my neighbors, and to please take a phone in case someone decided that a 60+ woman was a danger to their yard.
This year I hauled that vest out again to rehab a broken back and to strengthen my legs. I called the police department twice to let them know who I was and what I was doing and where. I again stopped by and left off my card. This is called being proactive. That way if someone was concerned, a call to the police would let them know all was safe.
A few days ago I wrote a funny, self-deprecating note in the Safety section to let people know, along with photos, who I was and what I was doing. I appealed to common sense, made fun of my choice of neon tights, included an information video explaining what the weighted vest was and how it was used. I joked that the weighted vests don’t come in pink. Said that I’d appreciate not being whacked on the coconut because of a piece of exercise equipment. I also pointedly said that if you are indeed concerned, please call the police.
Most of the response was funny, warm and supportive.
Bully Pulpit for a Pit Bull
That is, except for one woman who attacked me about my post. In a long, public diatribe she excoriated me about being condescending. She totally missed the tongue-in-cheek tone and the polite requests to be thoughtful. She didn’t even see the sentence that suggested calling the Lakewood police station if there were genuine concern. This was a woman looking for a fight. And I had just handed her a bully pulpit.
I wrote her privately (because I have better manners than to rip someone apart in front of their neighbors) and immediately took down my profile. I have no interest in being part of a neighborhood forum which is no better than Facebook at its worst. I have no issue that she disagreed with me. I have issue with how, and her need to go after me publicly with a cat ‘o nine tails.
Had she reached out to me privately and pointed out her concern I’d have been happy to either change my post or write an addendum. However rather than create a dialogue, she demonstrated to our entire neighborhood her lack of courtesy, and her determination to publicly embarrass someone she has never met. Who, by the way, might live right around the corner. I seriously doubt she’d have laid into me to my face. That would have taken real guts. This way she can take pot shots at anyone she likes behind closed doors, do damage, and not have to pay the price for it. Like all trolls.
Tearing Apart the Fabric of Communities
This is precisely how we isolate, antagonize and alienate people right in our own back yards. The inability to slow down and take a disagreement offline is part of what is tearing the fabric of America apart. The compulsion to publicly humiliate people you don’t know is the vicious, ugly underbelly that is so very public now. Online forums don’t demand manners. They are a free-for-all in too many cases.
I will continue to exercise in my neighborhood. She is far more dangerous than any kid with a BB gun. That kind of viciousness has a tendency to simmer and boil over. In fact, she is precisely the kind of person the police warned me about- unpredictable, unbalanced, looking for someone to take out.
Ultimately, Nextdoor.com is no more than just one more public forum where people with an axe to grind can launch personal diatribes, only this time, it’s in our own neighborhoods. Rather than build community and trust, all it did was backfire. As others have commented, too much of Nextdoor.com is filled with so- called safety complaints about a Black or Hispanic man committing the crime of driving through the neighborhood “looking suspicious.” It’s bad enough to be accused of Driving While Black/Hispanic, I’m now dangerous for Walking While White. This doesn’t bring people together. It incites racism, engenders distrust and creates outright hostility.
I feel less safe, less comfortable, and less connected in my neighborhood than ever before. As long as people feel free to air their ugliness from behind the veil computer screen as Facebook has taught us to do so very well, we don’t make friends. We make enemies.
That’s not a community. That’s a simmering war.