07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Friday, March 23, 2012


Passion fires in two directions. People and ideas we passionately embrace, and those we passionately oppose. At the moment, bullies are stirring my passion. And I’m willing to invest my time and energy to stymie them in my own backyard.

We hear a lot about schoolyard bullies—the punks who physically pound weaker kids or humiliate youngsters who look or think differently than they do. They count on schoolmates turning a blind eye, either out of fear or because they don’t want to get involved. They know the majority just want to get along, get on with life.

Unfortunately, there’s a grown-up version. Adult bullies (would you believe retirement age?) can quickly turn a friendly neighborhood into a war zone. Too often, Homeowner Associations (HOAs) provide a fertile battleground. All it takes to light the fuse is for an HOA Board to disagree with a bully’s opinion. Perhaps the bullies are displeased with the length of a neighbor’s grass or an increase in HOA dues. Or maybe they decide a swimming pool isn’t cleaned often enough or believe dues are being squandered on an activity they don’t use.

Disagreements are inevitable. At their best, HOAs can be examples of grass roots democracy. Opposing ideas are presented (rationally), and the HOA membership votes.

Majority rules. End of story.

Unfortunately, many bullies aren’t content to argue on an idea’s merits. They launch personal attacks on the character of anyone who disagrees with them. They spread vicious rumors, send anonymous emails, threaten frivolous lawsuits, disrupt meetings, and make the whole atmosphere so unpleasant people “drop out.” Compromise isn’t a word in their vocabulary.

Like the schoolyard toughs, these adult versions count on their neighbors’ distaste for controversy. They know most of us hate to attend meetings where the poisonous atmosphere ties our stomachs in knots. We want our homes to be our castles, our very own oases of peace and quiet. So they figure the best way to win is to keep fighting until no one except members of their cliques are willing to serve on HOA Boards or committees.

But democracy can work. If they’re voted down enough times, the bullies will move on to other places where they can play their power games and win. For authors of romantic suspense, there is one upside to co-existing with these homegrown bullies. They give us a close-up view of personality traits that can make the villains in our novels come to life.

Have you encountered bullies in your HOA, club or organization? How do you deal with them?


Denise Verrico said...

Linda, thanks for your post. Spot on. I also see lots of bullies on the internet in various forums. I sometimes read posts on Amazon that curl my hair. Polite discourse often goes out the window when people can hide in cyberspace. Sometimes I'd like to jump into a discussion online, but will refrain when I see the tone has turned nasty. As for villians in stories, I like to take the approach that everyone has an agenda, it sometimes conflicts with my heroes' and heroines' in a big way. Great insights, Linda!

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks Denise. I agree that bullies can ruin the atmosphere in cyberspace as well as in our physical backyards. And you're right, everyone has an agenda. It's unwillingness to compromise and settle things democratically that often separates the bullies from people who simply speak in favor and/or against anything.

Ashantay said...

Adult bullies are garnering more attention in the media. My day work in HR brings them to my attention fairly often. The way I've dealt with bullies is to confront them. When they are given a dose of their own medicine, they often back down. Those that don't are probably sociopaths, and that's a whole other problem!

Judith Ashley said...

My one foray into HOA ended up with people, after the name calling, etc., just dropped out, refused to pay their HOA dues, and made my life as treasurer a living hell. I resigned as treasurer, eventually sold the property and life is much more peaceful. Of course, it wasn't my primary home so that makes a huge difference.

When I worked in Child Protective Services I found staying calm, speaking quietly, and repeating the question/issue worked most of the time. I seldom ended up leaving and coming back with the police. It isn't always easy to stay calm, cool, and collected when someone is spewing bully language in your face but in the end, if you can do it, they relent and either go along with you or leave.

As writers, every experience can be useful in terms of plot, character development, dialogue, etc. Not everyone is so lucky!

Linda Lovely said...

Hmmm. Ashantay and Judith, you've offered some good insights. However, I have the feelings that bullies come in a variety of different wrappers and what works to calm one will only serve to incite another. Interesting. Thanks for commenting.

Polly said...

Sounds to me like you already have the villain for your next book. And I know you have a few characters to base him on. Nothing beats real life experiences.

Linda Lovely said...

Polly, definitely composites but yes I have some excellent candidates for a villain in an upcoming book. You're right, real life offers a ton of options. Just got my hair cut and the man who cuts my hair told me a couple of real life tales that made my hair stand on end while he was snipping away.

Robin Weaver said...

The biggest problem is that decent people play by the rules--bullies rarely do. I suppose the ultimate revenge is at the end of the day--the bully is still s/he, a nasty fate when you consider it. As always, thought-provoking blog, Linda

Judith Ashley said...

Hi again, Linda - you are right, of course. Bullies do come in many shapes and sizes and motivations. Physical bullies I only met when I was accompanied by the police.

Verbal bullies I could outlast because I actually had the power. The power to remove their child(ren) against the parents' wishes.

The challenge is always knowing which is which and knowing when to walk away before the verbal encounter turns physical.

Everyone has a maximum escalation point before deflating - the biggest hurdle is knowing whether the maximum point is when they become physical or when they storm out.

It's one thing if you are employed in a profession that puts you in situations where you come up against bullies. IMHO officers in a HOA isn't one of them and they shouldn't have to deal with it.