Busybody Nation


“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

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday. The weather was even uneventful, an occurrence that many residents of Omaha, Nebraska will inform anyone that wants to know, is an event in and of itself. The conversation was pleasant, but unmemorable and uneventful, and our walk through the park should have ended that way, but I’d had enough.

Without intending to do so, I initiated what would eventuate into a confrontation, by committing what I would be informed to be a crime against nature, after allowing my leashed dog to chase some of the park’s ducks into the water.

“Don’t do that!” A female voice shrieked, somewhere off in the distance of the park. 

After chasing the ducks, my dog sniffed at the shore the ducks stood on seconds earlier. He looked up and watched them swim away a couple seconds longer, and he walked away.

Had my wife said, “Did you hear that lady shriek at you?” I could’ve pled ignorance. I could’ve also said that I had no idea that I was the target of the shrieking. The shriek was that faint, and distant. The park wasn’t densely populated, but it was plausible that the target could’ve been anyone. I knew it wasn’t. I knew I was the subject of scorn. I could’ve walked away from it, however, and no one not even my wifewould’ve known that I heard her. My pride was not on the line, in other words, and I had nothing to gain by pursuing confrontation. I did think about this, all of it, while my dog sniffed the shore and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background, but I’d had enough.

Pursuing some confrontations can produce rewards. Some of the times a person’s character is on the line, and they need to come out swinging, with their best vocabulary. Some of the times, confrontation breeds greater definition. Some of the times, a person should not sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations to go unchallenged. Yet, we all make mistakes when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition. This need for respect can be such a driving force, that we might engage in inconsequential confrontations that result in no gains for either party. Some of the times, we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves, and some of the times, we engage in irrational, unnecessary confrontations for the irrational reason that we’ve had enough.

Most people are self-involved and inconsiderate, but if those on the receiving end of these inconsiderate actions take a moment to evaluate the situation, we will find that the word consider is at the base of the word inconsiderate. Most people don’t consider the ramifications of their actions, as there is a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, and it’s our perceptions that drive the two together. We read into the motivations of the inconsiderate, and we see our own. We think that everyone is as considerate as we are, and that others choose to violate these unspoken, social contracts we have with one another to the point of being rude.

We know that in most cases, it would be advisable to move on, past every perceived slight, and most of us do choose to be non-confrontational on most days. On most days, we find a way to walk away from those that shriek, and their prosecuting attorney friends (that you’ll meet in due time) for the purpose of having an uneventful, non-confrontational day, and we do so without losing one minute of sleep, because we know that most confrontations won’t teach the inconsiderate social decorum, or the life lessons that they should know by now.

Those of us that choose to live peaceful, uneventful, and non-confrontational lives often have an outlet that most busybodies don’t. We have a group of people that live in a place we call home, and if we experience that which could make us miserable, all we have to do is return home and we will be happy again. We can also inform our loved ones of our near confrontation, and we tell them how we managed to avoid overreacting. We do this with the knowledge that those that do overreact to every perceived slight have something bubbling beneath the surface that is waiting to be unleashed. We even avoid confrontation on those occasions when we know we’re right, because doing otherwise could turn out to be a decision that affects our happy lives in ways that are unalterable, depending on who is the recipient of our response. Most of us prefer to let it go, and return home to play with our kids, love our spouse, pet our dog, and move on in our otherwise happy lives.

There is a tipping point, however, when the inconsequential, inconsiderate actions of others begin to pile up. The affected could be the nicest, most peaceful person on Earth, but everyone has a threshold. After a lifetime of experiencing inconsiderate people engaging in behavior that suggests that they don’t consider how their actions could affect others, the pressurized valve that exists in all of us can begin to build up, until it explodes in an inconsiderate manner. This moment will not cause the affected to become an irrational person that seeks confrontation, but even the most peaceful people on Earth reach a point where they believe they need to aid the inconsiderate into reconsidering their definitions.

After spending years listening to shrieking busybodies notify authority figures that they –or their children– have experienced perceived slights, I hit a threshold. The list of these perceived slights –filed under national catastrophes– is now so long that a compendium the size of War and Peace would have a Volume One subtitle. I reached my threshold of hearing about shrieking busybodies, in restaurants and malls, watch the manner in which every man, woman, and child treats every other man, woman, and child. I had enough of shrieking busybodies sifting through my emails, and instant messages, 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 might have had swimming around in our minds when we decided to engage in a perceived slight.

Shrieking busybodies have no problems telling others how to dress, what beer to drink, where to eat, and what to think of the companies that sell such products. They ask a consumer if they’ve tried to quit smoking, in line, at a pharmacy. They tell us that our child needs to be in a Federal Aviation Administration approved car seat, until they are forty-four pounds. They tell us that our lawn should not exceed two inches, what our body mass index should be, what we should be feeding our children. They tell us if we should be drinking coffee, what kind of Environmental Protection Agency approved car we should be driving, how much money we should have, and when they believe we’ve have enough of whatever we enjoy having.

If the sole motivation, for these busybodies, were to be an information resource, a ‘we report, you decide’ outlet as it were, those of us on the other side of the velvet rope might have less of a complaint. We know that ‘everything in moderation’ are words to live by to enjoy quality health, we know that indulging has deleterious consequences, and we know that there are some that need information outlets to be reminded of what we already know. If the sole motivation of the busybody were to be an information resource, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated that they end up shrieking in a city park, at a stranger that has decided not to follow their edicts.

Most busybodies are the result of a peaceful nation that leaves its citizens with little in the way of greater concerns. They’re a begrudged segment of the population that holds a lifelong grudge against those that “got away” with transgressions in their youth. Most children test boundaries. Busybodies tested them too, but most busybodies never “got away” with anything, or at least that’s how they remember it. They remember those that “got away” with testing limits, and how those people acted as if they didn’t care what the rules were. Busybodies did. They didn’t want to get in trouble, and they didn’t think it was fair when others escaped consequences. When others avoided capture, and the consequences were less severe than the busybody thought they should be, the percolating began.

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, she’ll tan your hide,” busybodies informed us when we were kids in grade school. When Ms. Johnson did little to nothing to punish us for our transgression, the percolating began. The busybody believed that Ms. Johnson was fierce to the point of being authoritarian, and that was the primary reason that the busybody didn’t engage in nefarious activities. Thus, the busybody grew confused and resentful when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations, to preserve their sense of order with fire and brimstone style punishments for the disorderly. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear authority, and the consequences for acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody provided her explicit detail, and when Ms. Johnson did nothing after that, a begrudged feeling was born in the mind of the busybody that resulted in a festering boil they spent the rest of their lives trying to treat. It’s a begrudged feeling that leaves them with the idea that they’re the lone sentry guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe, and they don’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

A “That’s not fair!” mantra became their battle cry, and they used that battle cry to assist teachers, and other people’s parents, with the difficult task of imposing order. This battle cry followed them into adulthood where their life’s mission transitioned to assisting office managers, supervisors, and lawmakers with their very difficult task of imposing a sense of what should be everyone’s very strict definition of order. They write letters to the editor, their parent teacher conferences last forty-five minutes, and their one-on-one meetings with management fall just short of screaming matches. They want order, they want fairness, and they don’t want anyone to get away with what they dare not try.

They’re our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, to 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 television show Bewitched. Gladys has become the fictional representation for many –of a certain generation– of those neighbors that peer through drapes to document the goings on of their neighbors. Gladys Kravitz-types know when their neighbors arrive home, with whom they enter their home, how long they’ve been home, the neighbors they interact with, and how everything a person does affects the perception, and property values, of their neighborhood. They’re the busybodies of our little corner of the world, and this is becoming their nation.

Abner Kravitz, the folk hero of those that have simply had enough, would be the first responder to Mrs. Kravitz’s eyewitness testimonies. 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 this, Abner would turn to his busybody wife and say something along the lines of “Why don’t you just mind your own business Gladys!”

The buildup of these Gladys Kravitz-types telling to tell me how to live, reached my threshold 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 still leashed dog have another run at another set of ducks. I knew I was the target of that faint, anonymous shriek, and I knew that a repeat of this action would exacerbate this situation, and I knew I could have avoided it all without anyone knowing, but I 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 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 a smile and a good-natured wave that was as confrontational as a smile and a good-natured wave can be.

The ‘Don’t do that!’ shrieker stepped to the fore. She had been waiting for me about twenty yards further along the park’s trail. She had been waiting, I can only assume, to see how the prosecuting attorney’s threats would affect me. When it was determined that I was unaffected by them, she stepped to the fore. She informed me, at high volume, that the ducks were scared, and that they cannot fly, and she added some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a rate that I feared she might be exhibiting the early, warning signs of a cardiac arrest.

I stopped on the trail, for a moment, caught off guard by her venom, until I realized that faux pas. I continued to 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 provided me a scenario in which a large and menacing dog targeted for my dog for attack, and she asked me 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 uninteresting “nu uh,” “yes huh” portion of the confrontation lasted for another thirty seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman decided to turn and walk away. She was still saying things, but her venom had diminished a tad.

Some have accused me 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 me, 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 even begin such a discussion, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.

I do concede that if more than five to seven people make such an accusation, there may be something to it. If that is the case, it may have something to do with the fact that draws and defeats, don’t settle well in my digestive system. I prefer to think that I can accept draws, and defeats, as long as the other person has considered my point of view before we go our separate ways. I will also concede that this consideration of my point of view is relative to my definition, and that I don’t provide the most objective perspective on me.

“It looks like we won’t be coming to this park anymore,” I informed my wife, at high volume, 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. Neither party proved their points. 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 edicts in silence. In my own quiet way, I thought I informed busybody nation that some of the times they, too, 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 them a bad guy characterization, and no one wants to be a bad guy. In this particular scenario, the subject would have been engaging in a confrontation with a little old lady to tell her to shut up about a thirty-pound dog chasing what she deemed helpless ducks swimming in a city pond. I doubt that many, other than the .5% that over react to every perceived slight, would’ve defended their pro dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did. A person that wants to be a nice guy would’ve viewed this a no-win position.

My only defense –a defense that I agree borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion– is to tell the reader that I’m not a pro dog-chase-duck guy. I’m a a man-stop-busybody guy focused on informing these people that we would all appreciate it if they would take one step back to that time-honored state of mind where people were uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live their lives. It’s a first step that I would love to spearhead that suggests to those that want to take part in my new movement that regardless how inconsequential a moment of confrontation may be, and how indefensible it may appear on paper, we all need to step up and tell our local, state, and federal busybodies: “Enough already!”

If I were lucky enough to achieve for this role, I would inform my followers that we need to engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments, such as the one that occurred on a Thursday in the park, to roll back the tide of these busybodies involving themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives. Our goal would not be to stop busybodies, for that would be impossible, but to begin planting proverbial “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 their righteous warrior badges on our watch.

“This park right here is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go about living their inconsequential lives without consequence!” is something we should scream as we plant our proverbial flag in the confrontation.

To those that have committed a “crimes against nature” by allowing their children, or dogs, a run at some city ducks, I challenge you to look back over your shoulder after the crime is committed. Those that have done this, have witnessed the otherwise unharmed ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that their dog, or child, scared them off moments earlier. An insecure bully –that experience some joy scaring innocent, little ducks– might perceive this as a direct challenge to their manhood that the ducks are sending out. Our movement would not support such bullying tactics. We would do it with the idea that these ducks have realized that kids and dogs chasing after them is an acceptable consequence of living among the humans. We would do it with the belief that this happens to these ducks so often that it doesn’t even ruffle their feathers anymore. If the ducks have conversations, I have to imagine that this procedure has become so routine for them, that they fly away and back without so much as a pause in their sentence.

If it caused these ducks the trauma the shrieking busybody world believe it does, these ducks would choose to live elsewhere. These ducks could live in the wild, for example, where they might face actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, as opposed to a thirty-pound Puggle giving chase to tweak some instinct the dog has never executed to completion and wouldn’t know what to do if he did. If the trauma of the Puggle threat were such that the ducks opted to forgo the world of gorging on human largesse to the point of obesity, that threatens their ability to fly –and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them– they would opt for an existence that might result in them going hungry for the night. If they were to survive it.

I don’t know how advanced, or informed, the decision-making process of the city lake duck is. I’m guessing that the wariness they have for the little beings –a child or a dog– that tend to accompany a larger being on a walk, trumps the fear they have for all the other beings that exist in all the areas of the world not preserved by man for their comfort and well-being.

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 resulted from the mistakes of the previous generations.

“What a man does in his own home is his business,” was the mindset of those previous generations that believed that respecting another’s privacy was, at the very 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 the preferred course, if not the honorable one, to do little to nothing.

Now, a good and honorable man, of that previous generation, could 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” good men backed off and said, “I tried, Mildred, I tried.” The next course of action would’ve involved either a physical altercation, or a call to the police, and most did not follow up to that extent.

Our current generation had seen the deleterious effects of ignoring extreme situations in which the helpless incur irreparable harm that affects the rest of their life. 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 escalate. 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 with this call-to-arms mindset is that extreme situations don’t come around as often as we 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 requires action. “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 that principle’s phone 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. 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 should’ve said something earlier. If I’m wrong, big deal, at least my heart was in the right place. Even if I stepped in the middle of a mother scolding her child in a mall, and that child was acting up to the extreme, most will regard my actions as righteous. If that mother is a little more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public, in a manner that might result in the child being more prone to act up in public, it’s all an acceptable error on my part, if I manage to save one helpless child from a true, extreme situation.”

Busybodies have a trumpet, and they’re not afraid to use it

There are varying degrees of busybody intrusion, of course. Some, as noted above, carefully intercede on behalf of another in a moment they believe has, in some way, spun out of control. They might say something, but they move on. They might concede they didn’t know the whole story, but from their perspective, it appeared to be a situation that required someone to step in. Others take great pride in their ability to recognize a situation before it escalates, and they will intercede without concession. The difference occurs in the aftermath, when true busybodies trumpet their exploits to friends and family. This is what true busybodies do. They’re proud of it, and it’s how they attain 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 often know little to nothing of what actually happened in the incident, so they may perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating him for stepping in. It’s rare that a listener will prod the righteous warrior for more details in this manner:

“Did you know the totality of what happened before you intervened? Did you make sure you were apprised of, at least, most of the details involved, or did you make a leap of faith?”

“What do you mean, did I know what happened there?” the busybody will ask in their defense. “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner that I deemed to be unwarranted to the extreme! It’s just a child for gosh sakes! There was no need for that!”

“But how many times have you been wrong?” a 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 say if they’re being honest. “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 receive some protection. I see it as doing my part.”

“But you don’t know that to be the case, here, 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 why some of us loathe busybodies, and why we are willing to go to some extremes to roll the tide back. 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 lurk 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 have to guess that it was an ironic joke the inventor played on the world, for most busybodies are anything but busy. If we were to confront a busybody with the idea that they may need to get out more, they would begin a lengthy list of activities, and groups, that they’re involved in, and that list would probably surpass ours. “It’s obvious that that’s not enough for you,” 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 about protecting ducks alone, why was I hit with the threat of prosecution? If the focus was on the well-being and livelihood of the ducks, this shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside voice condemnation of my actions. She could’ve undressed me, in a psychological manner, with a couple of quick words, “Don’t scare the ducks. You’re a grown man, for gosh sakes. Do you get some kind of perverse joy out of it?” If she had expressed her fears with a measure of restraint, and she used a measured tone when expressing her concerns, my dog and I would’ve left the park with our tails between our legs. What the two shriekers did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure that the first shreiker’s doctor –concerned about her high blood pressure, and her heart valves weakened by years of overreacting to perceived slights and perceived extreme situations– would’ve warned her against future outbursts. I am also sure that the partners in the second shrieker’s law firm would’ve cautioned him against throwing his weight around in otherwise meaningless moments. Most busybodies have no authority to be saying anything that they’re saying, and this fact, I assume, frustrates them to a begrudged point that they feel the need to hit the release button on the pressurized valve that they hope ruins your day in the manner so many of theirs have been.

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