To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

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?


Jason said...

i don't know--it's a touchy issue. the only guideline i would suggest is that when what someone is doing affects/hurts others that's the time to tattle.

the kid in the street is a good example.

or rude neighbors playing music at 2 am when you have to work.

however, if something is simply offensive leave it alone. i hate the whole "it offends me so it must be banned" trip this country is on.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Well, the thing about the billboards is this: If 99,999 people do not want to see that crap, and don't want their kids to see it, and don't want visitors from out of town to think "so that's the kind of city you live in, huh", but one person wants to put the billboard up, then the billboard goes up.

The standards are pegged to the lowest standard in the group.

The particular billboard I remember featured a man wearing a bikini top with his armpit hair hanging out, gagged and handcuffed to bedposts. YUCK. I hated those billboards and so did everybody else I heard mention them. What a relief when they came down.

Jason said...

if something is so offensive that 99% of the people are offended maybe it should be removed--that would depend on the context; in a community dominated by any extremist group (pick your flavor) one could have a tyranny of the majority.

my question is how do you (or how does anyone) know that 99,999 people don't want to see it? as far as kids being exposed to it--all i can say is they probably hear-talk about things just as bad or worse at school. there are much more disturbing things on the nightly news.

i do agree the the lowest common denominator dominates our culture; this sickens me. however, there's a reason for this--it works. that's all most people want, apparently.

i guess i should revise my original answer. let market forces decide--that seems less fascist than government censorship, and it would be more effective.

if your community told the radio station that they wouldn't be listening as long as the board was up. maybe the station would remove it.

if there were no audience for fear factor or paris hilton, maybe they would disappear.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

You can't know if 99% of the population is offended because nobody asks. Sometimes small towns manage to have referendums (referenda?) in which they decide not to allow alcohol to be sold, etc. Or they have ordinances that regulate the size and colors of signs on businesses. I think that's fine because presumably people who move into those places like them like that.

I assume that it was market forces that caused the radio station not to renew those billboards. Kind of like Walmart selling enough bowdlerized CDs to make it cost-effective for them to be created and distributed, although supposedly all the vulgarity is in the music because the public demands it.

I really don't buy the argument that it's no worse than what kids hear/see at school anyway. That's an argument that schools sometimes use - X is no worse than what the kids see on TV. Some kids aren't allowed unfettered access to TV (my kid was one) for that very reason. It's like if there is a breach in the wall anywhere, we might as well open the gates and let the barbarians take over. And what about kids of five or six? They really don't need to be exposed to that perverted crap. What are you supposed to do, blindfold them when you put them in their carseats?

Paris Hilton - that's a whole 'nother phenomenon. It seems to me that her 15 minutes should have been over long, long ago. It's like when you look at something (like a traffic accident) and you wonder why you are looking at it, and while you wonder, you are still looking.