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Brooks: We can blame a lot on carácter fuerte

September 06, 2012|By Crissy Brooks

There has been some conflict in the neighborhood. The problems are not so much the differences of opinions as they are the way the opinions are being expressed.

Last week at the block party, one woman railed on another expressing her discontent with how her neighbor's table had been set up. This started a yelling match that sucked in several other neighbors.

Feelings were hurt. People were talking. Things got blown out of proportion.

We started the neighborhood meeting this week with a review of our agreed upon shared values: security, cleanliness, respect, community sharing and justice.

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Neighbors affirmed each other in their efforts around security and cleanliness. Then we got to respect.

One of the block party offenders spoke up first. "I will be the first to admit that I have been out of line in this area," she said.

Her frankness, honesty and humility sparked a series of similar confessions.

Another woman spoke up and reminded the group that the point of the block party was to know each other and care for one another. If we are going to disrespect each other, we are missing the whole point.

A conversation ensued about how to handle our conflicts and differences in respectful ways, not ignore them. A block party captain was elected to help the group stay focused on the purpose and help others navigate conflicts that come up. Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working together for the good of our community and not against each other.

It was a hard conversation, but productive.

There are more hard conversations to be delved into. The more grievous offenders of disrespect did not show up to the meeting.

Our block party captain is first tasked with approaching these neighbors and sharing with them about the decisions made at the meeting. There could be accusations and more misunderstanding, but this block party captain is the right woman for the job. Her heart is set on unity. Her service of others and sacrificial work for our neighborhood make her hard to accuse of ill intent.

If anyone can draw these neighbors to reconcile with others, she can.

From my perspective, it seems that the reconciliation between neighbors started the moment each one owned his or her part in the explosion. The group could move forward once each person took responsibility. Their humility was disarming.

Somehow these neighbors moved past the normal excuses we make for our disrespect.

In Spanish we blame a lot on "carácter fuerte" — a strong character. That is the term to explain and somehow excuse why someone flies off the hook. "That's just the way I am," one will say. "I have carácter fuerte."

As if that means we are supposed to excuse rude behavior and insults.

In English we sometimes call it passion, like Costa Mesa City Councilman Steve Mensinger did at Wednesday night's candidates forum. Apparently, if we are deemed passionate, we can rant and insult when we want.

As one who has been labeled both passionate and with a carácter fuerte on several occasions, I am learning from my neighbors the wisdom of humility and confession. It was what moved us to action this week.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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