A Culture of Tattletales

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The last few months we have had to deal with the by-law office in our city over an “anonymous” complaint regarding our backyard. At the centre of the complaint was the super cool track my husband had created for our kids to race remote control cars on. My oldest child saved up all of his birthday money and bought himself an r/c truck for the track. But all that “anonymous” saw were the tires laid out on the ground and called the city to report that there were “garbage tires” in our yard. So we were forced to dismantle the track and haul the tires away and then break the news to our kids that the track was no more.

I wish that this “anonymous” person would have made the effort to speak to us about the situation in person. It would have given us the opportunity to explain the purpose of the tires and perhaps cleared up the misconception that we were haphazardly throwing junk into our backyard.

The whole situation has me thinking, why would a person choose to lodge a hostile anonymous complaint over making a polite request face-to-face? Doesn’t the term “neighbourly” mean helpful, pleasant, polite?

A Culture of(4)But then I read the news. A South Carolina mother arrested for letting her 9 year old play alone at the park while she went to work. Another mother arrested for leaving her 4 year old child in the car alone for 5 minutes while she ran into the store. And the Maryland parents who have been in trouble twice now with police for their “free-range” parenting style by which they allowed their 10 and 6 year olds to walk to the park alone.

I’m not going to address the question of whether any of these children were in actual danger because that has been debated in many forums already. The question I am interested in is this; was any effort made by the concerned bystanders involved in these stories to take responsibility for the welfare of the children by either asking the children if they were OK or attempting to locate the parents? Or was the first step taken in the so-called “helping” of these children the phone calls to police?

Over the years I have come to know some of the other parents at my kids’ schools fairly well. Sometimes one of us parents is late picking up our kids. When that happens, another parent will make sure the kids know that their mom or dad isn’t at the school yet but that one of us will wait around with them until the mom or dad shows up. No one organized this-we just do it.

Not once has anyone rushed in to tell the principal or made a panicked call to the police when another parent isn’t there at the bell. We simply take the responsibility upon ourselves to look out for the children.

I would argue that in our society individuals often feel a lack of a sense of community. And this lack is what gives rise to the “not my problem” mentality that allows us to tattle on each other when we see someone doing something we perceive as either dangerous, as with the children left alone, or annoying, as with the tires in my backyard.

Many people are not making the effort to get to know each other in our neighbourhoods, churches, schools, stores, or wherever they find themselves each day and this gives rise to a sense of isolation and disconnect. As a result, when things don’t go our way we don’t feel the need to get involved.

We tattle.

And others in our community who may have needed our help or understanding are instead the recipients of our judgement. They can even be subject to harsh consequences as a result.

I think it’s time we make an effort to show a little grace within our communities.


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  1. Billy T says:

    I fully agree with your assessment. It is also playing a heavy role in work places. I have now had to deal with warning 3 people at my work that tattling is not a professional way to deal with problems. All 3 people are more interested in getting someone in trouble than trying to nicely correct what the other people are doing.

  2. Jen W says:

    You really hit the nail on the head Andrea! I wonder why tattling is such an epidemic in our culture? I tend to think it’s a reaction to fear of confrontation but maybe we’ve all just had a few too many positive reinforcements for that kind of behavior. People in authority would do well to remind the tattler to attempt to deal with it themselves first. Practice makes perfect!

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