Busybodies learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” —The English Standard Version of The Bible, Timothy 5:13
I could’ve had an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday. The weather was uneventful, an occurrence that any resident of Omaha, Nebraska will tell you is an event in and of itself. The conversation was pleasant, but unmemorable and uneventful, and the day could very well have ended that way, but I’d simply had enough.
I started the proceedings, by deciding to commit what I would later be informed could be considered a crime against nature, by allowing my leashed dog to chase some of the park’s ducks into the water.
Don’t do that!” some lady shrieked, somewhere off in the distance of the park.
My dog sniffed at the ducks from the shore, watched them swim away a couple seconds longer, and walked away.
If my wife had later said, “Did you hear that lady shriek at you?” I could’ve gotten away with saying I hadn’t, or that I had no idea that the shrieking was directed at me. The shriek was that faint and that anonymous. I could’ve simply walked away from it, and no one —not even my wife— would’ve known that I heard her. My pride was not on the line, in other words, and I really had nothing to gain by pursuing any sort of confrontation. And I did think about this, all of this, —while my dog happily sniffed the shore beneath us, and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background— but I’d simply had enough.
Some of the times, there is something to be gained in the course of confrontations. Some of the times your character is on the line, and you need to come out swinging, verbally or otherwise, to define yourself as a person that will not sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations. Yet, we do make mistakes along the way when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition. Some of the times, I think, we can be so driven by the need to be respected that we engage in relatively inconsequential confrontations in which there is nothing to be gained and nothing lost. Some of the times, I think we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves, and some of the times we engage for the irrational reason that we’ve simply had enough.
When a car cuts us off on the interstate, some of us feel compelled to express our frustration in a manner that never really gains us anything. “I don’t want them to think they’ve gotten away with it,” we later say, but we know that nothing we do will ever satisfy that need. When a family of four takes up so much of a supermarket aisle that we cannot pass, to chat about the differences in all of the peanut butter variations available to them, we are driven by an impulse that tells us we need to inform them how inconsiderate they are? Nothing we say will change the nature of their obliviousness, however, and we might be happier people if we just decide to avoid that impulse and just say “Excuse me” and move on.
Most people are inconsiderate, but if we took a couple of seconds to realize that they’re not being rude on purpose we could avoid most confrontations. The difference between the words inconsiderate and rude, should suggest to us that the subject of our concern probably didn’t consider the fact that they might be rude in a given situation. Often times, it’s us that considers the inconsiderate purposely rude, and when that’s the case we choose to act on it to satisfy our own insecurities. We know that in most cases, it would be advisable to simply move on, past the perceived slight, and most of us do choose to be non-confrontational on most days. On most days, we simply walk away from the shriekers, and their prosecuting friends (that you’ll meet shortly) for the purpose of having an uneventful, non-confrontational day, and we usually do it without losing a minute of sleep, because we know that most confrontations won’t do anything for us.
Those of us that choose to live peaceful, uneventful, and non-confrontational lives usually have an outlet. We go home to our wives and inform them of the near confrontation, and how we decided to avoid to avoid saying anything, even though we were in the right. Some of us then add what we would’ve loved to have said, or done, but it all dies there. We all have breaking points, however, and we never know when, or how, these moments will arrive, but we know they will arrive. Even those that stubbornly cling to pacifism, as a philosophical guide to greater happiness, know that these moments when a person has just had enough are inevitable.
I’d simply had enough of shrieking ladies calling authority figures to tell them that they —or their children— have been mistreated in some relatively meaningless manner. I’d simply had enough of shrieking busybodies, in restaurants and malls, watching the manner in which every man, woman, and child treats every other man, woman, and child. I’d simply had enough of shrieking busybodies reading my emails, and Instant Messages, and work details for material in their next ‘to whom it may concern’ report. Shrieking busybodies are in government seats now, our judicial system, our hard drives, message boards, and our minds trying to ferret out the motives that we may have had swimming around in our minds when we decided to mistreat another person.
Shrieking busybodies are telling us not to wear fur; what beer to drink; where to eat based on the politics of a restaurant, and how a restaurant may treat livestock; they’re asking you if you’ve tried to quit smoking, when you purchase a pack of cigarettes at the pharmacy; they’re telling you that your child needs to be in a Federal Aviation approved car seat; that your lawn should not exceed two inches; what your body mass index should be; what you should be feeding your child; if you should be drinking coffee; what kind of Environmental Protection Agency approved car you should be driving; how much money you should have; and when they believe you have enough of whatever you enjoy having.
They are the result of a relatively peaceful nation that leaves its citizenry with little to worry about. They’re our bored masses huddled around their lawn, picking weeds, planting flowers, and growing so bored that when the perception of a slight comes their way, they launch into a diatribe about the psychology of a duck. They’re our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes, of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, and protect this generation’s vulnerable from the vicious assaults that they perceive to be occurring.
Gladys Kravitz, for those that don’t know, was the fictional embodiment of the busybody, watching her neighbor, the witch Samantha Stephens, on the show Bewitched. Gladys has become the fictional representation for many –of a certain generation— of those neighbors that peer through drapes to mentally, and physically, document the goings on of their neighbors. They know when you come home, who you come home with, how long you’re home, which neighbors you speak with, and how everything you do affects the perception of the neighborhood. They’re the busybodies of our little corner of the world, and this is becoming their nation.
Abner, the folk hero of those that have simply had enough, would be the first responder to Mrs. Kravitz’s reports. Abner would close his newspaper and go to the window to see what his wife was going on about. At that point, the punchline would arrive in the form of a return to normalcy in the Stephens’ home. After which, Abner would turn to his busybody wife and say something along the lines of “Why don’t you just mind your own business Gladys!”
My resentment for these Gladys Kravitz-types trying to tell me how to live, came out in the ten seconds I spent contemplating doing nothing in response to the faint, anonymous shriek that told me to stop doing what I was doing, and I decided to let my leashed dog have another run at another set of ducks. I knew that faint, anonymous shriek was intended for me, and I knew that a repeat of this action would exacerbate this confrontation, and I knew I could have avoided it all without anyone knowing, but I’d simply had enough.
Watch your dog,” a fisherman, on a different shoreline, called out to initiate this confrontation, after I’d allowed my dog a second go.
“He’s all right,” I informed this gentleman. “He’s just having a little fun. I keep him on the leash at all times, but I do allow him to chase ducks a little.”
Be careful,” the man said. “I’m a prosecutor, and people run sting operations in this park all the time.” I must admit that this put me back a step. Was that intended to be a threat? It was. It stoked my ire.
“We’re just having a little fun,” I said, “But I do thank you for your concern,” and I offered him an admittedly confrontational, but good-natured wave.
I was then verbally confronted by the original, ‘Don’t do that!’ shrieker. She had been waiting for me about twenty yards further along the trail. She informed me, at high volume, that the ducks were scared, and that they cannot fly, and some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a rate that I initially feared she might be exhibiting the early, warning signs of cardiac arrest.
I stopped on the trail, for a moment, caught off guard by her venom, but I quickly realized my error and continued my progress on the trail that happened to be in her general direction. My progression was not confrontational, and I made that clear with my stride, but I was not going to stand back, away from her, in fear of her vitriol. She then asked me if a large dog was headed for my dog, if I wouldn’t be just as fearful as those ducks were.
“Not if that dog were leashed,” I said.
Yes you would,” she said.
The “nu uh,” “yes huh” portion of this confrontation lasted for another thirty seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman finally turned to walk away.
I’ve been accused, in the past, of being a last word person. I’ve often found that those that accuse me of this, need to have the last word far more than I, and they beat me to the last word by accusing me of being one that needs to have the last word. This has happened to me so often that I’ve thought of accusing people of needing to have the last word before we begin such a discussion, just to take that arrow out of their quiver. This accusation has been leveled against me so often that I am forced to consider the fact that I may, in fact, be a last word person. If that is the case, it’s only because I can’t stand draws, or defeats, or the idea that my views haven’t been properly considered before the two of us go our separate ways.
“It looks like we won’t be coming to this park anymore,” I loudly informed my wife to initiate my last word. “It’s filled with busybodies that don’t know how to mind their own business!”
Get out of the park!” this woman shrieked. She then shrieked something about calling the humane society and anything and everything she could to defend her position. I allowed her that final word.
It was such a meaningless confrontation. I didn’t feel any better, or worse, when it concluded. No points were made. No convictions proved. Unless one considers the goal of proving to one member of this busybody nation that I was not going to abide by her select edicts quietly. I did, in my own quiet way, inform busybody nation that some of the times they, too, can engage in overreach.
99.5% of the American public, I’m quite sure, never would have allowed their dog a second go at the ducks after the initial shriek, for that would’ve landed you a bad guy characterization, and no one wants to be a bad guy in any scenario. In this particular scenario, the subject would have been engaging in a confrontation with a little old lady, and their goal would be to get her to shut up about your thirty pound dog chasing largely helpless ducks swimming in a city pond. I doubt that many, other than the .5% that get worked up over every perceived slight would’ve defended their pro dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did. It was an indefensible position to any that want people to like them, and consider them a nice guy.
The only defense I have, a defense that borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion, is to tell you that I’m not necessarily a pro dog-chase-duck guy, but a man-stop-busybody guy focused on telling them they need to return to that state of mind where they’re uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live. No matter how inconsequential the issue is, and how indefensible it proves to be, good citizens need to turn on our nation’s busybodies and tell them “enough already!” Good citizens need to engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments such as these to hold back the tide of these busybodies involving themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives. At some point, good citizens need to start planting “Mind your own business Gladys” flags in the terra firma of city parks to let these no stress, no conflict, and no turmoil busybodies know that they’re not going to receive righteous warrior badges on our watch.
This park right here is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go about doing their inconsequential things without consequence!” is something we should scream as we plant our flag.
For, if you’ve ever looked over your shoulder, after committing one of these crimes against nature, you’ve seen these otherwise harmless ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that your dog, or child, scared them off of moments earlier. The insecure bully, that has bad intentions, could perceive this as a direct challenge to their manhood that the ducks are sending out. I choose to believe that these ducks have realized that kids and dogs chasing after them is an acceptable consequence of living among the humans. I choose to believe that this happens to them so often that it doesn’t ruffle their feathers too much. If it caused them the degree of trauma the shrieking busybody world believed it does, these ducks would choose to live in a more wild atmosphere in which they have actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, and they could choose to live an existence that requires them to forage for their own food, and occasionally go to sleep that night hungry. In a city park, however, they gorge on human largess, they have no fear of real predators, and they grow so fat and soft that they lose the ability to fly, and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them, except for one: a wariness of the little beings –a child or a dog— that sometimes accompany a larger being on a walk.
The Pitfalls of the Previous, Private Generation
Even those of us that despise the ways of the modern busybody must acknowledge that their gestation period occurred as a result of the pitfalls of the exaggeration of the opposite of the previous generation.
“What a man does in his own home is his business,” was the mindset of that previous generation that believed that privacy was, at least, a preferred method of dealing with neighbors, if not the honorable one. Thus, when faced with even extreme situations, good and honorable men deemed it preferable, if not honorable, to do little-to-nothing.
Now, a good and honorable man, of that previous generation, may have been persuaded to have a word with another man perceived to be causing an extreme situation, but if that other man informed the honorable man that it was “none of their business” the good men backed off and said, “I tried, Mildred, I tried.” The next course of action either involved a physical altercation, or a call to the police, and neither of those actions were acted upon often.
Our current generation had seen the deleterious effects of these extreme situations in which the helpless were harmed in irreparable ways that affected the rest of their lives. Good and honorable men have realized that there has been a call-to-arms to defend the helpless in ways greater than those symbolic measures put forth by previous generations. We may go a little overboard with our actions, at times, to protect the helpless, but we feel that some of the times it’s best to say something early before these situations can reach the extreme. There is also some foggy notion in our head, that if we do overreact in some situations, perhaps we might rectify the wrongs of the previous generation that decided to do little-to-nothing.
The problem is that these extreme situations don’t come around as often as we’ve been led to believe, and this problem of scarcity has given rise to the perception of injustice, and the perception that the situation before us is one of the extreme, that needs to be acted upon. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow them to get away with doing that,” we say when our child comes home with a real, or imagined, slight, “What’s the principle’s number again?”
Even if the situation before us is not of an extreme nature, it is possible that it could evolve into one. Who knows how these things progress? Isn’t it better to act now, than to allow it to fester and grow worse. We feel a responsibility to protect the helpless, from further mistreatment. “It may be nothing now, but I don’t want to go to bed tonight thinking that I probably should’ve said something earlier. If I’m wrong, big deal, at least my heart was in the right place. I will be perceived as a righteous warrior, even if I stepped in the middle of a mother scolding her child in a mall, and that child was truly acting unruly, and that mother may be more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public, and that child may be more prone to act up in public as a result. It’s all an acceptable error on my part, if I do manage to help one helpless child in a true, extreme situation.”
All busybodies will eventually inform their friends and family of what they did. It’s what busybodies do. They’re proud of it, and it’s how they get their badges of honor. It’s why people call them righteous warriors, according to their definition of what they think people should say about them.
The audience of the righteous warrior’s retelling will usually know little-to-nothing of what actually happened, so they may inadvertently perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating him for stepping in. Rarely will you hear one of the righteous warrior’s listeners ask:
“Did you know the totality of what happened before you intervened? Did you make sure you were aware of, at least, most of the details involved, or did you simply make a leap of faith?”
What do you mean, I don’t know what happened there?” the busybody will ask defensively, “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner that I deemed to be totally unwarranted. It’s just a child for gosh sakes. There was no need for that?”
“But how many times have you been wrong?” the bold questioner may ask. “How many times have you stepped in on a situation, of this nature, and done more harm than good?”
I don’t know,” they will probably say. “I’m not going to play this game. I may be wrong, some of the times, but that’s the price I’m willing to pay to create a more just world where the helpless of our society are better protected. I see it as doing my part.”
“But you don’t know that to be the case, is all I’m saying. I’m saying that some of the times, you should mind your own business, unless you know for sure.” This is the temptation those of us that hate busybodies have, but as anyone on the “but” end of a busybody’s complaint will tell you, the escalation of busybodies has reached a point now where there’s no turning back. The sins of the past generation, and all the movies, and TV shows that have documented them, have led us to believe that extreme situations exist around every corner of our nation, until we’re screaming at the top of our lungs about the psychology of some poor ducks that were scared into entering a lake.
I don’t know who invented the word busybody to describe these people, but seeing the way they act, one would think that it was an ironic joke the inventor played on the world, for most busybodies are anything but busy. If you were to confront a busybody with the idea that they may need to get out more, they would most likely begin a lengthy list of activities, and groups, that they’re involved in, and that list would surely surpass your own. “It’s obviously not enough,” a listener should say, “If it were, you wouldn’t have been shrieking at the top of your lungs about the psychological plight of the duck. Or, if it is enough, then you must have some past transgression eating away at your soul that comes barreling out of you when you perceive a slight against some perceived victim.”
If this confrontation that occurred on a Thursday, in the park, were simply about protecting ducks, would I have been hit with the threat of prosecution? If it were simply about the ducks, this shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside voice condemnation of my actions. She could’ve said something like: “Don’t scare the ducks,” in a measured tone that would’ve caused me and my dog to feel so guilty that we would’ve walked out of the park with our tails between my legs. What they did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure the shrieker’s doctor —concerned about her high blood pressure, or weakened heart caused by years of volatile screaming— would’ve warned her against future outbursts, and the partners in the prosecutor’s law firm probably cautioned him against unnecessarily throwing his weight around. Most busybodies have no authority to be saying anything that they’re saying, and this fact presumably frustrates them to a point where they feel the need to ruin your day in the manner so many of theirs have been.