A Public Apology to My Neighbors

The last few weeks have been challenging, to say the least.  Like most of us, I’m doing my best to stay healthy, create some kind of structure in my days, and manage the stress of the uncertainty that lies ahead.  All of my professional engagements have been cancelled, and I worry about how I’ll make up that income. In addition to all that, I’ve been hypervigilant to keep my elderly parents safe at home and make sure they have everything they need.  My worry, fear, and stress buckets are full.

So last night as I sat on my lanai listening to my neighbors enjoy a “social gathering” for the second weekend in a row, it rankled me. Oh, alright…it pissed me off. And as the evening wore on, my patience wore thin. And so, I made a comment on our community Facebook page.

Yep…  I did that.

Now before you write me off as that neighbor, you should know that I’m rarely on Facebook.  I don’t post about dog poop in my yard, the management company, the landscapers, the security gate or lack thereof, or the hours of operation at the restaurant. In fact, the last time I posted was an expression of gratitude.  I don’t believe I have ever posted a negative comment or complaint about my neighbors or community because I think we live in one of the prettiest places on the planet.

But, last night I commented about the social gathering across the water.

I’m sorry I said anything.

A few residents shared their views and just like that, it turned into the Naples edition of “Torches and Pitchforks.” To be completely honest, I do think it was selfish and irresponsible of my neighbors to carry on socially while the rest of us are making the necessary sacrifices to slow the spread and flatten the curve. But I should have kept quiet.

Because what they do isn’t really my business… is it? I mean, if just a few people in the hood have a little get-together with 6 or 8 neighbors, that wouldn’t be a big deal.. would it? The rest of us can pick up the slack on social responsibility, right? I’m sorry that’s not how infectious diseases work. Wouldn’t that be great, though?

Every instance of people not following the guidelines negates the efforts of those of us who are. Even so, I should have kept my thoughts to myself.

I’m sorry I said anything. 

I wonder if 34-year old Li Wenliang was sorry he said something in December to warn fellow medics about the outbreak in China.  Three days later the police paid him a visit and told him to stop. He was one of eight people who police were investigating for “spreading rumors” and “causing alarm that severely disturbed the social order.”

The letter from the Chinese police ordered him to “calm down and reflect on his bad behavior. He returned to work and caught the virus from a patient he was treating for glaucoma. He had no idea she was infected with the virus. He died after spending three weeks in the hospital.


As long as I have your attention, I feel compelled to share a few more sorry thoughts…

To the neighbor who called me the “Gestapo” or the one who told me to “chill out, the world isn’t coming to an end and people are allowed to have some fun,” I’m sorry I am so worried about people not heeding the real-time warnings from New York City like the folks in New Orleans who wouldn’t be denied their Mardi Gras celebrations. That “Coronavirus Can’t Kill our Party” attitude has earned New Orleans a death rate per-capita double that of New York City, according to a troubling new report. The parish of Orleans, which encompasses the Big Easy, saw a coronavirus death rate of 37.93 per 100,000 people as of Friday, April 10.

To the neighbor who said this is all an overreaction anyway, I’m sorry I keep thinking about how people reacted when the virus first arrived in our country. “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” President Trump tweeted on March 9. “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Hmmm…  at this moment, 113,329 people have died worldwide and there are 545,387 confirmed cases and 21,482 deaths in our country.

But, I’m sorry I said anything.

To the neighbor who said that “quarantining was for the sick not the healthy,” I’m sorry that we are so bad at assessing risk. But it’s especially true in the case of the coronavirus because it’s about our risk to others, and that might make it a little more difficult to understand.

Our judgment is often clouded by optimism bias, the tendency to believe you are less likely than others to experience something negative. In late February, researchers polled 4,348 people in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland and found the vast majority believed they were less likely to get the coronavirus than others when the numbers were staggering. Another poll conducted in mid-March on people from the US, the United Kingdom, and Germany substantiated people’s belief that their risk of contracting the virus is inherently lower than their peers.

I’m sorry so many people don’t understand that wearing a mask and gloves at the grocery store is meant to protect others, not themselves.

I’m sorry that until we all have access to testing, we each must behave as if we have the virus. 

I’m sorry that no one is immune.

To the neighbor who said he’s doesn’t know me and he’s going to make sure to keep it that way, I’m sorry you feel that way. And I’m sorry that so many of my neighbors see my worry, concern, and stress as a personal affront. It’s not meant to be. But when so many of us are trying to stay healthy while also caring for more vulnerable folks around us, that small gathering across the water was the equivalent of a big, fat “F—k You!” But, I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be.

Social-distancing is a sacrifice no doubt, but we should be embracing it as an act of selflessness, a decision made not just to protect yourself but to protect your friends, your parents, your friends’ parents, the guy stocking the shelves at the grocery store, and potentially everyone each of those people come into contact with. Stopping the disease’s spread is a team effort, and one where the best way to take care of each other is by staying home.

To all of my neighbors who are afraid to say anything to people who “have the right to have fun” and who “will not stop living their lives,” I get it. It doesn’t feel good to be attacked. I’m guessing it feels worse to see the most vulnerable among us sick, hospitalized, and dying via FaceTime.

But, this whole thing is probably nothing.

I’m sorry I said anything.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Don’t be sorry, Melissa. It takes guts and courage to stand up and speak out when you know criticism is forthcoming. Moreover, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You should tell your neighbors that while the world might not be coming to an end, their lives—and that of their loved ones—may indeed end if they aren’t super vigilant in the face of a highly contagious and deadly infectious disease. Shame on them, not you!

  2. Oh Melissa! I hear you and feel your pain. Seeing a social gathering would irate me as well, knowing there are people out here who don’t care. But like most town pages on social media, I find all comments have a slew of people who agree and a slew of people who don’t. It’s part of our cognitive biases. To agree or feel attacked.

    If folks agree, they tend to chime in with praise. If folks disagree, they attack you. But the trickiest of all our cognitive biases is that we remember the hurtful comments more. We could have 80% of the comments agreeing and praising. But that 20% of negativity and shaming will hit us hard.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to hurt, but your letting go of that frustration in the best place. This community. Of people who understand you and care about. Thanks for being here! Thanks for being conscientious. And thanks for being vulnerable.

  3. Melissa‼️🙏🙏🙏👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
    I’m so not sorry you said anything. You used your voice and did what was right.
    There just are those times where it gets to a point that the need to speak is more compelling than just observing gracefully. The loud voices of resisters is ill reputed And thus the need for some of us to speak up who really care. In this I am not saying that no one cares.. but that it is best to care on the side that has more advice in saving lives really.
    I’m so proud of you!
    Thank you for sharing as you write so well and this is helpful!
    FYI: once upon a time ago..when “I” was part of a “we”.. spent much time in Naples…at a property we had then… lol. Wow. I was picturing the lanai there as I read your words and could really get what you were saying!
    👏🏻🙏. Take care Melissa, Here for you always. Paula

  4. Melissa, I would be incensed! You did nothing wrong, and the fact that you took heat for giving a damn really gets my back up. I’m so sorry that people are so ignorant. Thank you for this heartfelt story. My recommendation: Write those “neighbors” off. Take care of you and yours.

  5. Melissa – there ain’t no road map to where we are, or where we’ve been or where we’re headed. It’s up to you, and to all of us to put the guideposts and the speed bumps out there for all who follow us. I’m rarely the first voice that you’ll hear about things like this, and many times I’m the one sitting back thinking about how there is merit in those who are headed north, and some good things for those headed south, and those headed east and west aren’t totally nuts either. As you suggest, there are too many unknowns about this thing we are confronting right now, to feel that anyone has all the answers. I am glad that a month ago, when we were altogether, that we did what we felt best. I guess we could have been chastised for taking the chances that we did at the outset of the pandemic, but now, especially since none of us got sick, I am thrilled that we didn’t have any negative repercussions to coloring outside the lines a bit then. I saw my parents on Saturday, we were on the ground, they were three stories up, on their lanai. At the same time we were shouting at each other, a woman whose 95 year old dad was on the ground floor, was trying to teach him how to use the internet so that he could see his church’s services. We are blessed to live in a time where technology can help to bridge the gaps, and we are taking chances on overbalancing in another direction if we crush the life out of this economy. There are no black and white answers here. It’s more like a traffic light – green is separated from red by yellow. At every intersection, we need to proceed with caution, sometimes heading on through, sometimes stopping. When we look back at this time, it’s all going to look clearer.

  6. Knowing you, I suspect you would have been a whole lot sorrier if you didn’t say something. And I suspect that your neighbors who commented that they “have the right to have fun” and “will not stop living their lives,” will expect the hospital doors to part like the Red Sea if and when they come down with the virus. I see selfishness everywhere – the people who refuse to wear a mask waiting in line or going through the grocery store.

    But there’s also a whole lot of selflessness going on, too, by people who have figured out how to have fun and live their lives differently.

    And when people like you show up in our lives, we’re reminded of what is really good about the world we live in.

  7. Melissa, I’m sorry you even had to write this! It’s incomprehensible that some folks just don’t (or won’t) accept their individual responsibility during this pandemic. I totally agree with your mindset and actions (including your neighborhood post) and sincerely wish you and yours good health, peace and happiness.

  8. Melissa, you were write to speak, even on facebook, I almost did and did not. On Good Friday there were a lot of cars on my street, it is a cul de sac and everyone seemed to be going next door. I peeked out of my window and was angry. As I voiced my concerns to my daughter, she advised of an ambulance showing up the night before.On Saturday once more there was a lot of cars, and by this time was ready to call the police or write on facebook. Well, was advised by anotger neighbour that someone died, and then discovered it was my 75 plus year old neighbour. With facemask on I braved outdoor and gave a hurried condolence and returned home. I still wish they would follow the law and care for others with social distancing, but understand the elderly grieving widow. I wish the social gathering so close to my home would stop and wish I had enough Lysol aerosol to spray the house its occupants and visitors, but I pause, as I feel sad for their loss, and the man who came out daily early mornings to water his plants. He died from a fall and stroke not from coronavirus, and his death is affected by this worldwide virus anyway.
    Whatever the reason, we should all care and be responsible to stay inside. What is a good reason to act irresponsibly…at this point, death is at all doors, as a trigger or otherwise, stay inside is not that hard in perspective.
    Sorry for the length, but I support your bravery to at least get the neighbours thinking even if they are pissed. #bighugs

  9. Melissa – I been thinking a lot about purification of intentions. We will not always deliver the message that will not offend other. I have only known you for a couple months via Humans First, I believe your intention here is without question.

    I have been for fortunate to have met your parents via Zoom conference. I totally get your passion and your integrity.

    “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” Martin Luther King Jr.
    Thank-you my friend for not remaining in silence.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Chris. I think the way I’ve been so focused on trying so hard to protect my folks (i.e., not taking the germs into their house since they’ve been grounded) made the party on the lanai that much more frustrating. This thing isn’t even close to being over and I’m hopeful that some of the retired folks in my community wake up. I appreciate the time you took to read and share your thoughts.

  10. Melissa, I’m sorry you’re sorry! Silence kills as surely as guns and other obvious weapons do. Maybe those specific folks were upset, maybe some others were.


    What you may never know is who you helped by speaking out. Who you might have saved from organizing and/or attending such a gathering right now. Whose family member might live another 30 or 40 or 50 more years because of the reality that social distancing isn’t a fad, isn’t a joke, isn’t to be taken lightly.

    Please realize that you probably have helped many by your action of writing on the FB page. We all want to live through this and see what’s on the other side. Of course, that requires us to take this stuff seriously!

    Love you, woman! Keep the faith. Hugs — sure wish they could be real physical ones.

    • I appreciate your kind words, Susan. I’ll be honest… in the moment, I wasn’t thinking about who might be persuaded not to plan another event. I was just frustrated at the blatant disregard those folks had for the rest of us. Passion, frustration, stress and fear are not the best recipe for measured communication and I am most certainly a work in progress. But I have to believe that our community isn’t unique with respect to this kind of selfish behavior. I appreciate the words of support here… I’ve been really pretty upset about this. 🙁

  11. Oh sister… As someone who is usually the voice of descent (aka “the turd in the punchbowl’), I have walked in your shoes so many times. It takes courage to own your voice. Maybe, just maybe, you might be heard…. Or have planted a seed… There are things we can control and things we can’t, and while we can’t control the actions of others, we can control whether or not we act and how we act. The greatest challenge that always shows up for me is how to communicate and actually be heard? When our aim is truly to influence, how do we speak out against what we perceive as wrong when I know making others wrong only creates defensiveness? I certainly don’t have the answer, but it’s the question I will continue to ponder to the end of days…. Hugs to you, friend! I look forward to the day when we can safely share your lanai!

    • Thank you for your wise words, Kimberly! I doubt the exchange was productive enough to change anything here. I certainly act with emotion more than I’d like to and I am a work in progress.

  12. Melissa… You have hit the nail on the head as this core belief structure that is releasing from our planet at this time. From the belief structure of victim/persecutor to the new template of sovereignty and freedom. The greatest task now is to navigate the new while the old crumbles away. I have had similar thoughts even as recent as yesterday as I watched my across the street neighbors gather for Easter. I realize that right now what happens in my house and my car and when I go out in public are the things I have control over. The rest I’m just saying no to. There is nothing that you have to apologize for. Your care for the collective is clear and we honor it deeply. Thank you for all that you do!

    • Thank you for sharing, Wendy. I think so many of us would love nothing more than to call this whole thing off. Unfortunately we cannot. What I do has a direct impact on my family and my neighbors. It’s so sad to see the selfish, irresponsible behavior driven by the “I will do what I want” mentality. It’s so sad.