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 to be celebrated. I could’ve instructed my son, through example, that some of the times you need know when to fold ‘em, and when to walk away. I could’ve walked away pretending that nothing happened, and this Thursday would’ve remained uneventful, and I would’ve gotten away with it too, but I couldn’t. I’d simply had enough.
I decided 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 faint and 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 a confrontation. And I did think about this –all of this– while dog happily sniffed the grounds beneath us, and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background. I decided that I’d had enough.
Some of the times, there is something to be gained by confrontation. Some of the times, your character is on the line, and you need to come out swinging, be it verbally or otherwise, but I think that we often get matters of consequence confused with the trivial in our quest for definition. Some of the times, I think we can be so driven by the impulse 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 do it, for the irrational reason that we’ve had enough.
When a car cuts us off on the interstate, some of us feel compelled to express our frustration with them, but does that ever really gain us anything? “I don’t want them to think they’ve gotten away with it,” we think, but we know that nothing we can do will satisfy this feeling. When a family of four takes up so much of a supermarket aisle, that we can’t pass, to chat about the differences in all of the peanut butter variations available to them, why do we feel a need to inform them how inconsiderate they are? Nothing we say will change the nature of their obliviousness. Some of the times, it’s better to just say “Excuse me” and move on.
Most people are inconsiderate, but they’re not purposely so, and if they are I choose to believe they aren’t. Most of the times, I seek out the most non-confrontational approach possible. On most days, I would simply walk away from this shrieker, and her prosecuting friend (you’ll meet shortly) and I do it without losing a minute of sleep, and I could’ve continued that tradition here, but I’d simply had enough.
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 scenario. 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 we may have had in our mistreatment of others.
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 that 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.
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 the 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.
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 representative 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 world, and this is becoming their nation.
Abner, the folk hero of those that have just 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 cause confrontation, but I’d just 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.” 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 can’t 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 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 stated that if a large dog was headed for my dog, I would 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 the confrontation lasted for another thirty seconds, with each party adding a little here and there to their argument, until the shrieking woman finally began 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 saying that I always need to have the last word. If it’s true, however, that I am a last word person, it’s only because I can’t stand draws, or defeat, in the argument world. Which, some of you are probably thinking, is the very definition of a last words person. That’s fine, I now say, but I felt my current position needed to be added to. I couldn’t just leave well enough alone. I’d simply had enough.
“It looks like we won’t be coming to this park anymore,” I loudly informed my wife. “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. I did, however, prove to busybody nation that I would not be abiding by their selective edicts quietly. I did, in my own way, inform busybody nation that some of the times they, too, can go overboard.
I’m quite sure that 99.5% of the American public would have never would’ve allowed their dog a second go at the ducks after the initial shriek, and I’m quite sure an even higher percentage of the American public would’ve backed down to the confrontation that ensued. I’m guessing that most people would’ve seen my position as an indefensible position, and they would’ve quickly ceded to the fact that city park ducks are largely helpless in the face of a thirty pound dog.
Most people also would’ve backed down the moment they saw that their opponent was an old lady, and most people would not have felt right mounting a pro dog-chase-duck defense. To these people, I can only say I’m not a pro-dog-chase-duck guy, but I felt a need to put a stop to all of these busybodies telling me what to do. I thought that I needed to start some kind of push back against the new world order of the busybodies, at least to a point where they’re, once again, uncomfortable approaching total strangers to inform them what they need to do to start living the way you oughta. At some point, I thought, we need to plant a “Mind your own business Gladys” flag 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.
If you’ve ever looked over your shoulder, after committing one of these crimes against nature, you’ve seen these ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that your dog, or your child, scared them off of moments earlier. The insecure bully, that has bad intentions, could perceive this as a challenge that the ducks are sending out to them. I choose to see to believe that these ducks have realized that kids and dogs chasing after them is an acceptable consequence to living among the humans. I choose to believe that this happens to them so often that it doesn’t so much as ruffle their feathers. If this caused them the degree of trauma the shrieking busybody believed it has, 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, they gorge on human largesse, they have no fear of predators, and they grow so fat and soft that they lose many of the 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.
Having said all that, it’s obvious that the current strain of busybody was born from the ashes of the generation that believed in an exaggeration of the opposite.
“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, the 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 nothing.
Now, one good and honorable man may have been persuaded to have a word with the other man causing the extreme situation, but if that other man informed the honorable man that it was “none of their business” 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 those last ditch efforts were rarely enacted.
Our current generation had seen the deleterious effects of 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 is a call-to-arms to defend the helpless in ways greater than the 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 reach the extreme. There is also some foggy notion in our head, that if we over react, 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 need 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 could evolve into one, we think. 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, when correcting her child in public, and that child may be more prone to act up in public as a result.”
This busybody 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 this retelling will know little-to-nothing of what actually happened, so they may inadvertently perpetuate the righteous warrior by congratulating him for stepping in. Rarely will you hear one of the righteous warrior’s listeners ask:
“Did you really know what happened before you intervened?”
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 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 they intended to play 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 yours. “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 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 I had on a Thursday in the park, were simply about protecting ducks, would I be hit with some threat of prosecution? If it were simply about the ducks, this shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick condemnation of my actions. She could’ve said something like: “Don’t scare the ducks,” in a normal, measure voice, that would’ve caused me to feel so guilty that I would’ve walked out of the park with my tail between my legs. What they did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure the shrieker’s doctor would’ve warned her against such future outbursts, and the partners in the prosecutor’s law firm would’ve 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.