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.” – Timothy 5:13, Holy Bible (NES) –

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday. The weather was even uneventful, an occurrence that many Omaha, Nebraska residents will inform anyone willing to lend an ear that this would be an event in and of itself. The conversation was pleasant, albeit 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 allowing my leashed dog to chase some ducks into the water, an apparent crime against nature.

“Don’t do that!” a female voice shrieked from somewhere in the distance. 

After chasing the ducks, my dog sniffed at the shore where their webbed foot stood seconds earlier. He looked up and watched them swim away for a couple seconds, then casually walked away, his mission complete.

If my wife asked, “Did you hear that woman shriek at you?” I could’ve pled ignorance. I could’ve played dumb and pretended that I had no idea what she was talking about. The woman’s shriek was that faint and distant. The park wasn’t densely populated, but it was plausible that any of the other attendees could have earned such a reaction. I could have assumed I was not the subject of her scorn, and I could’ve simply walked away from it. I could have pretended that I didn’t hear her, and no one not even my wifewould’ve known any better. My pride was not on the line, and I had nothing to gain by pursuing confrontation. I did consider all of that, while my dog sniffed the shore and my wife voiced her concerns, unrelated to the matter at hand, in the background, but I’d had enough.

Some confrontations produce rewards. If a person’s character is on the line, they need to come out swinging, with the best vocabulary in their arsenal. Sometimes, confrontation breeds the type of definition we should not allow others to define for us. We cannot sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations to go unchallenged. We do make mistakes, however, 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. Sometimes, we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves. Other times, we engage in irrational, unnecessary confrontations for the irrational reason that we’ve allowed so many slights and inconsequential confrontations slip by without response that we reach our threshold, and a breaking point.

Consider is at the base of the word inconsiderate, and both parties of an interaction would do well to remember that before reacting, for most people don’t consider how their actions might affect others. There is a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, but our perception drives the two together. When we read into the motivations of the inconsiderate, we see our own. We think everyone is as considerate as we are and that others choose to violate the unspoken, social contracts we have with one another to the point of being rude.

Most of us simply move on, ignoring perceived slights. On most days, we find a way to walk away from the shriekers, and their prosecuting attorney friends (whom we will discuss later), preferring uneventful, non-confrontational days. We do so without losing one minute of sleep, because we know most confrontations won’t teach the inconsiderate social decorum or the life lessons they should know by now.

Those of us who choose to live peaceful, uneventful, non-confrontational lives often have an outlet most busybodies lack. We have a support group at home who will kiss us and love us after we experience confrontations with the miserable. We can inform our loved ones of the near confrontation, and then boast about how we managed to avoid overreacting. We do this with the knowledge that those who do overreact to every perceived slight have something bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to be unleashed. We even avoid confrontation on those occasions when we know we’re right, because we know that doing otherwise might turn out to be a decision that affects our happy lives in ways that are unalterable, depending on who the recipient of our response is. We don’t know who the person on the other end of the confrontation is, on most occasions. We don’t know how miserable they are, and to what extent they might go to resolve this otherwise inconsequential confrontation. It isn’t fear that drives our decision to let it go, however, we just prefer to let this inconsiderate person have their way, so we can return home to play with our kids, love our spouse, pet our dog, and move on in our otherwise happy lives. We realize, at some point, that this means far more to them than it does us.

There is a tipping point, however, when the inconsequential, inconsiderate actions of others begin to pile up. Even the nicest, most peaceful person on Earth has a threshold. This moment will not cause the affected to become an irrational person that seeks confrontation, but even the most peaceful reach a point when they believe they need to aid the inconsiderate in reconsidering their definitions.

After spending years listening to shrieking busybodies notifying authority figures of the perceived slights heaped upon them or their children I hit that threshold in the park. The list of these perceived slights, filed under national catastrophes, is now so long that a compendium the thickness of War and Peace would require a Volume 1 subtitle. I reached my threshold of tales about shrieking busybodies calling out mothers and fathers for the manner in which they treated their children. I’d had enough of shrieking busybodies sifting through my emails and instant messages, searching for material for their next “To whom it may concern” report. Shrieking busybodies hold government seats now, and they occupy our judicial system, our hard drives and message boards, even our minds trying to ferret out motives we might have had 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 corporations that sell such products. They ask consumers, “Have you tried to quit smoking?” in the checkout line at the pharmacy. They tell us that our child needs to be in a Federal Aviation Administration approved car seat, until he reaches forty-four pounds. They inform us that our lawn looks “Absolutely horrible” when it exceeds the neighborhood association’s recommended height of two inches. They remind us what our body mass index should be and what we should feed our children, whether we should drink coffee, what kind of Environmental Protection Agency- approved vehicles we should drive, and how much money we should have. We are content with this advice, because we believe busybodies have the best of intentions, but busybodies don’t see it that way. They see it as a launching point. 

If the sole motivation of these busybodies was to be an information resource, a we-report-you-decide outlet, those of us on the other side of the velvet rope might have less of a complaint. We know that everything in moderation will provide a quality life, better health, and overall wellbeing. We know that indulging has deleterious consequences, and some do need information outlets to remind them of what we already know. If their sole motivation were to provide nothing more than information, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated that they end up shrieking in a city park, at a stranger who 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 typically a begrudged segment of the population, one that holds a lifelong grudge against those who allegedly got away with alleged transgressions in their youth. Most children test boundaries, and busybodies are not exception, but they don’t remember ever getting away with anything. They saw classmates disrespect authority in a manner that made the busybody resentful and envious. The authority figures listed off the consequences so many times that the busybody could recite them, yet others ignored the rules acting as if they didn’t care. This happened so often that, in the mind of the busybody, a percolating anger began bubbling beneath the surface.

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, or she’ll tan your hide,” the busybody informed us when we were in grade school. When Ms. Johnson did little to nothing to punish us for our transgression, the percolating began. The busybody believed Ms. Johnson was a fierce authoritarian, and that was the primary reason the busybody didn’t engage in the activity in question. Thus, the busybody grew confused and resentful when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations of fire-and-brimstone punishments for the disorderly to preserve order. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear authority and the consequences of acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody provided explicit details of it. When Ms. Johnson ignored Exhibits A through X and did nothing, a festering boil of begrudged feelings was born in the mind of the busybody that they would spend the rest of their lives treating. They leave school with the bitter idea that they are the lone sentry, tasked with guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe. The busybody doesn’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

“That’s not fair!” becomes their battle cry, and they say it to assist the various authority figures in their life commissioned with the difficult task of imposing order. This battle cry followed them into adulthood when their life 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 demand perceived fairness, and they don’t want anyone to get away with what they dare not try.

These are our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, to protect the vulnerable from perceived vicious assaults.

As a side note, for those who weren’t alive or didn’t watch television during the 1970’s, Gladys Kravitz was the fictional embodiment of the busybody. Her eye was ever watchful of her neighbor, the supernatural witch Samantha Stephens, on Bewitched. Gladys has become the fictional embodiment for many of this generation of those neighbors who peer through drapes to document the goings-on of those in their neighborhood. Gladys Kravitz-types know when their neighbors arrive home, who accompanies them, and how long they remain home. To the Gladyses of our world, everything a person does affects the perception and, thus, the property values in the 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 who have simply had enough, was the first responder to his wife’s eyewitness testimonies. Abner closed his newspaper and casually walked to the window to see what caused his wife’s shrieking. At that point, the punchline arrived in the form of a return to normalcy in the Stephens home. After that, Abner would turn to his busybody wife and say, “Why don’t you just mind your own business, Gladys?”

The buildup of these Gladys Kravitzes telling to tell us all how to live reached a threshold in the ten seconds I spent contemplating doing nothing in response to the faint, anonymous shriek that instructed me to stop doing what I was doing. Ultimately, 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 repeating the action that sparked it would only exacerbate the situation. I also knew I could have avoided it without anyone knowing, but I had enough.

“Watch your dog,” a fisherman on a different shoreline called out to initiate the confrontation, after I allowed my dog a second go.

“He’s all right,” I informed the gentleman. “He’s just having a little fun. I keep him on a 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, and it stoked my ire.

“We’re just having a little fun,” I said, “but I do thank you for your concern.” I then offered him a genuine smile and a good-natured wave that was as confrontational as a genuine smile and a good-natured wave can be.

The “Don’t do that!” shrieker stepped to the fore from her place about twenty yards ahead on the park trail. She waited there, I could only assume, to see how the prosecuting attorney’s threats affected me. When she determined it had no effect, she began to tremble with rage. In a much higher volume than was necessary, she informed me, “The ducks are scared, and they cannot fly.” She then added some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a speed that I feared she might be exhibiting the early warning signs of cardiac arrest.

I stopped on the walking trail, for a moment, caught off guard by the intensity of her venom, until I realized the faux pas of remaining frozen in place. She was standing in front of me, inadvertently blocking my path, but I walked forward, toward her. I did my best to make it clear that I was not charging her, or nearing her in any confrontational manner, yet I refused to remain standing back in a manner that might lead her to believe her vitriol paralyzed me in fear.

The woman then developed a scenario for me. “What if a large, menacing dog came after your little pooch there? Wouldn’t you be just as scared as those ducks are?” she asked.

“Not if that dog were leashed,” I said.

“Yes, you would,” she said.

The uninteresting uh-huh-yes-huh portion of the confrontation lasted for another couple seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman decided to turn and walk away. She was still muttering things over her shoulder, but her venom diminished a tad.

Some have accused me of being a last-word person, but I’ve found that those who accuse me of this often have a need for the last word that surpasses mine. They enjoy trapping the recipient in a state of flux, and their last words are typically an accusation that the other is seeking 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 an argument, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.

I will 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 I can accept draws and defeats, as long as the other person has considered my point of view before we go our separate ways, but I admit that I always put some effort into making sure the other side hears my words, last or not. I will admit that these characterizations of my point of view are 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 who don’t know how to mind their own business!”

“Get out of the park!” this woman said, shrieking again. She then shrieked something about calling the Humane Society, and she punctuated it with 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, and neither party proved our point, 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 subtle way, I did at least inform one busybody, of the busybody world, that sometimes they can engage in overreach.

I know that 99.5 percent of the American public would never allow a dog, leashed or not, a second run at the ducks after the initial shriek. That would make the perpetrator of such an action a bad guy, and no one wants to be a bad guy. In this particular scenario, the subject would’ve been engaging in a confrontation with an elderly woman, defending their right to let a thirty-pound dog chase helpless ducks enjoying a leisurely swim in a city pond. I doubt that many, other than the .5 percent who overreact to every perceived slight, would’ve defended their pro-dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did. A person who wants to be a nice guy would view this whole thing as a no-win proposition.

My only defense –one that I agree borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion– is to declare that I am not pro-dog-chase-duck. I’m a man-stop-busybody guy, more focused on informing these people that we would appreciate it if they would take one step back to that time-honored state of mind when people were uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live their lives. It’s a first step in a movement I would love to spearhead. We would be the “Enough already!” movement that would inform federal, state, and local busybodies of their new limitations.

If they nominated me for this role, I would inform my followers that we must engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments such as the one that occurred on a Thursday in the park. We must, if we are to roll the tide back effectively, on the busybodies who involve themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives. Our goal would not be to stop busybodies, for that would be impossible. Rather, the objective is to begin a non-violent rebuttal that involves planting proverbial, “Mind your own business Gladys!” flags in the terra firma of city parks, just to let the no stress/no conflict/no turmoil busybodies know they’re not going to receive their righteous warrior badges on our watch.

“This park is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go on living our inconsequential lives without consequence!” we should scream as we plant our proverbial flags in the confrontation.

To those members of our group who wouldn’t dare commit a so-called crime against nature by allowing their children or dogs, a run at the city ducks, I would challenge them to do so. I would ask them to look back over their shoulder after the purported crime against nature has been committed, to watch the ducks fly right back to the exact same spot on the shoreline that their dog, or child, scared them off moments earlier. Insecure bullies who experience some joy in scaring innocent, little ducks might perceive this return to the shoreline as a direct challenge to their manhood, and they may do something else to flex their muscle. Our movement would not support that. On the contrary, our goal would be to serve as an information outlet. We would inform our group members that, as in the scenario involving the ducks, that ducks have listed these purported crimes committed against their sanctity as an acceptable consequence of living among humans. We would state that this happens to the city ducks so often that it doesn’t even ruffle their feathers anymore. If the ducks have conversations, I 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.

I should’ve asked the elderly shrieker to detail for me the trauma that my supposed crime against nature caused the ducks. I should’ve said, “If such actions cause them the trauma you suggest, why don’t they live elsewhere? In the wild, they would face actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, as opposed to a thirty-pound Puggle giving chase to tweak some instinct the canine has never executed to completion. He wouldn’t know what to do with it if he did,” I could’ve said.

I also could’ve added, “If the trauma of the Puggle threat was so severe that the ducks opted to forgo the world of gorging on human largesse to the point of obesity –which is what threatens their ability to fly and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them by the way– they would opt for an existence that might result in them going hungry for the night. If they were to survive it.”

Of course, I don’t know how advanced or informed the decision-making process of the city lake duck is. I’m guessing the wariness they have for the little beings such as children and pets that tend to accompany larger beings trumps the fear they have for all the other beings that exist in all the areas of the world that mankind has not preserved for their comfort and well-being.


The Pitfalls of the Previous, Private Generation


Even those of us who despise the ways of the modern busybody must acknowledge that their existence sprang from the ashes of the previous generations.

“What a man does in his own home is his business,” declared the previous generations that believed that respecting others’ privacy was, at the very least, a preferred method of dealing with neighbors, if not the honorable one. Thus, even when faced with extreme situations, good and honorable people deemed it the preferred course, if not the honorable one, to do little to nothing.

A concerned citizen might have persuaded a good and honorable person to have a word with the one perceived to be causing an extreme situation, but if the accused informed the honorable person, “It’s none of your business” a good people would back off and say, “I tried, Mildred. I tried.” The next course of action would involve either a physical altercation or a call to the police, and most did not follow up to that extent.

The current generation witnessed the deleterious effects of ignoring extreme situations in which the helpless incurred irreparable harm that would affect them for rest of their life. Good and honorable people realized that there was a call-to-arms to provide defense and comfort for the helpless in ways greater than those symbolic measures put forth by previous generations. They may go a little overboard at times, in the interest of protecting the helpless, but they feel that it is sometimes best to say something early, before a situation escalates. There is also some foggy notion in their head that if they do overreact in some situations, perhaps they might rectify the wrongs of the previous generation who 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 others lead us to believe. This problem of scarcity has given rise to the perception of injustice and the belief that the situation before us is an extreme that requires action.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow them to get away with that,” we say when our child comes home with a real, or imagined, slight. “What’s that principal’s phone number again?”

Even if the situation 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, rather than to allow it to fester? We feel a responsibility to protect the helpless from further mistreatment, even if there was no real, definitive mistreatment in the first place.

“It may be nothing now, but I don’t want to go to bed tonight regretting the fact that I said nothing. If I’m wrong, big deal. My motivations were pure. If I say something when a mother is scolding her child too harshly, most will regard my intentions as righteous. If the 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, right? If I managed to save one helpless child from a true, extreme situation.”

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, and then they move on. They might concede they didn’t know the whole story, but they believed the situation called for advice from someone who’s been there before. Others take great pride in their ability to recognize a situation before it escalates, and they intercede without concession. The difference occurs in the aftermath, when busybodies trumpet their exploits to friends and family. This is what true busybodies do. They’re proud of their busybody nature, as that is precisely how they attain their badges of honor. They love when others deem them righteous warriors, according to their definition of what they think people should say about them.

We should also note that in most cases, the audience of the righteous warrior’s retelling often knows little to nothing of what actually happened during the incident in question, so they might perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating them for stepping in. Rarely does a listener prod a righteous warrior for more details on the matter.

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

“What do you mean, did I know what happened?” the busybody will ask in their defense. “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner 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 though?” a bold questioner may ask. “How many times have you stepped in on a situation of this nature and done more harm than good?”

The honest righteous warrior would admit that they didn’t know all of the details all of the time, and if they were brutally honest and reflective they would admit that they probably don’t know the pertinent details most of the time.

“Look, I’m not going to play this game,” is the more common response from righteous warriors, as most of them act on impulses as opposed to pertinent information. “I may be wrong some of the times, I’ll grant you that, 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 all the time. That’s what 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 extremes to roll back the tide. As anyone on the “but” end of a busybody’s complaint will tell you, the escalation of busybodies has reached a point of no return. The sins of the past generation and the numerous movies and TV shows that have documented them have led us to believe that extreme situations lurk around every corner, until we’re screaming at the top of our lungs about the psychology of a duck being scared into a lake by a dog, a completely natural crime against the natural.

I don’t know who invented the word busybody to describe these people, but my guess is that there was some irony involved, a joke played on the world, a widely accepted oxymoron. Most busybodies are anything but. If we were to confront a busybody with the idea that they should get out more, they might provide a lengthy list of activities, and groups they’re involved in, a list that would likely surpass ours. “It’s obvious that that’s not enough for you,” we might say. “If it was, you wouldn’t have been shrieking at the top of your lungs about the psychological plight of the duck. Not only that, but some past transgression must be eating away at your soul, one that comes barreling out of you when you perceive a slight against some perceived victim.”

If the confrontation that occurred on a Thursday in the park was solely about protecting duck, why did one of them hit me with a veiled threat of a fine and possible prosecution? If the focus was on the well-being and livelihood of the ducks, the 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 few 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 expressed her fears with some measure of restraint, in a measured tone, 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’s doctor –concerned about her high blood pressure, and her heart valves weakened from 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 say anything that they’re saying. This, I can only assume, frustrates them to a begrudged point that they feel the need to hit the release button on the pressurized valve, and they hope that will, in turn, ruin your day in the manner so many of their days have been ruined.