Question: I bought a house a few years ago in a development in a nonmetropolitan part of Virginia. There was a homeowners association with a president. However, the association was not active until about two years ago, when I started a Facebook group for it. Now, there are about 30 neighbors in the Facebook group. It was a nice way to get to begin to know our neighbors. For the first time in many years, there was an association dinner last year that about 18 people attended. I was not an official in the association but did most of its work.
In November, I drafted a warm message for the president to all neighbors, wishing everyone a happy holiday season, and emailed it to her for review. She responded with the following message: "I would, instead, say Merry Christmas. If people are offended, too bad. This is, after all, the Christmas season."
I wrote back and said our association comprises all homeowners, whether they be Christian, Jewish, African American, etc. It's important to be welcoming and inclusive.
She responded: "I don't know of any families that are of alternate religions, and even if they are, Christmas is, whether they like it or not, a Christian holiday. Otherwise, no Christmas."
I am Christian - my father was a minister - but I was stunned and offended by her emails. After the holidays, I wrote to her and said that I am leaving the HOA (and the Facebook group) because I cannot belong to an association whose president doesn't care whether she offends people whose religious beliefs are different from her own.
She hasn't responded. I haven't shared her emails with any neighbor. There are no dues to the HOA, as there are sufficient monies in the treasury. I have never encountered something like this. Should I do anything else? Should I have done something differently along the way?
Answer: Unfortunately, what you've done to this point limits what you can do now, unless you're willing to eat dirt and let yourself back into the group.
I share your disgust with the president, who apparently is another victim of this cultural moment when nickel-and-dime religious bigotry is held up as a brave and principled stand. If nothing else, Madam President also has a stunning ignorance of this thing called New Year's, which I am quite certain is an early winter holiday that isn't Christmas. (It's also hard to imagine an institution less in need of impassioned defenders than Christmas Month.)
However, the neighborhood association, with your energy fueling it, seems to have added more to your community mosaic than this blinkered president ultimately will subtract by banning the H-word in a one-off email she didn't even write.
So, while the temptation to act on principle here is great, it might make more sense to follow the call of pragmatism: Stay in the association, keep nurturing ties to your neighbors, keep bringing your own inclusive sensibilities to bear, and trust that effort to outweigh, many times over, her fool's errand of using newsletter phrasing to protect Christmas from the marauding celebrants of other solstice-rooted events.
Question: I buy Girl Scout cookies to support my friends' kids and nieces. But I'm frustrated that the requests for my purchase always come in the form of an email from the parents saying that the more cookies their child sells, the more chances they have to achieve rewards, or it's a form letter from Girl Scouts with the child's name in the subject.
I've told the parents to please have their child email me directly (or, better, call me) and sell me the cookies. We go through this every year. I feel like it's a large institution using children as an instrument to raise money, without the kids having any responsibility in the transaction. And now, it's that time of year again. Should I just bite my tongue and buy the darn cookies, or keep pressing my cause?
Answer: Neither. From now on, just buy cookies - or support any other youth fund-raising efforts - only when the kids themselves do the work. No lectures or grudge-buying necessary. Any emails can be ignored.
It's a little tougher when a parent approaches you in person, but in that case, you cheerfully say, yes, you'd be happy to buy some cookies - "Have your daughter call or email me."
If you fear this imperils your Thin Mint supply (I won't judge), keep an eye out for groups of Girl Scouts who set up tables near local businesses to ambush the defenseless. These kids are walking the walk and earn all the business they get.
Chat with Carolyn Hax her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.