When is what one person does another person's business?
Around here, kids are taught very early not to be tattle-tales. I remember that when I was kindergarten-aged, in Sunday School, we were supposed to bow our heads and close our eyes during prayer. Frequently some kid would rat on another kid, that he had had his eyes open during the prayer. The teacher always told the tattler that the only way he could know that was to have his own eyes open, and that he needed to concentrate on doing what he was supposed to do and not what everybody else was doing.
It was appropriate for us to learn that at Sunday School, because the New Testament is full of that idea. Don't try to get the speck out of someone else's eye while you have a 2X4 in your own. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. No man judges another man's servant. There's the story of the rich man who went to temple and thanked God that he was not a wretch like the tax collector in the corner; the tax collector only prayed for mercy for himself because he knew he was a sinner, and he was the one who found favor.
Even after being raised in that culture, plenty of grown folks still feel like they have to tell on each other and get each other into trouble. Where I used to work, the people I supervised complained about each other all the time. I had to have a meeting one day, and tell them that I needed to know if there was a safety issue, a quality issue, or somebody was preventing them from doing their job. Otherwise, I didn't want to hear it.
On the other hand, nobody lives in a vacuum. What one person does inevitably affects other people, especially in a city where there are a lot of people living in close proximity. We have noise ordinances, and rules about keeping the grass mowed, and so forth, so that we don't get on each other's nerves too much.
For some issues, it's fairly obvious that you have to mind somebody else's business. I called the child abuse hotline once to report a neighbor who let her two-year-old play in the street. I took him home the first time I saw him, and told his mother where he was and that it was dangerous (duh). When I saw him in the street again, I dropped a dime. That situation is a no-brainer, to me anyway.
What about noisy neighbors - how do you deal with that? What if your neighbor smokes dope occasionally but doesn't cause you any problems? What if your neighbor smokes dope and has scary-looking visitors come to his house at various times? What if your child tells you his friend has taken to carrying a weapon to school because he's had threats made against him? What if your child tells you his diabetic friend trades his lunch for sugary snacks every day?
How much responsibility do we have for public morals, for lack of a better expression? I used to drive past truly disgusting billboards and bus stop ads that advertised a radio morning show. You can turn off the TV, or not buy a magazine, but you can't help looking at a billboard that's in your face. They set a tone for the city that I didn't appreciate. Some other people didn't appreciate it either, and complained bitterly in letters to the editor of the local newspaper. The ads have disappeared; hopefully they were found to be ineffective and there won't be any more. But who gets to say what kinds of ads and signs and billboards are to be tolerated? Should we pick an arbiter of morals? Should we resign ourselves to the lowest common denominator?