Friday, February 18, 2005

Pro-tattle vs. Anti-tattle

I have a bad feeling. I think I got banned from a mailing list that I have just joined two weeks ago. Either that, or their server went down right after I sent out my last email on Wednesday night, because I haven’t gotten anything from them since (used to average 50 emails a day from that list).

The list is dedicated to a certain parenting issue, and I joined it because I needed information on that issue (which, BTW, I have already received from them). For the most part, I’ve been reading the emails and staying quiet, until on Wednesday somebody started a discussion about tattling. I’ll be very brief so as to preserve the privacy of everyone involved, but the main theme of the discussion was that the word “tattling” is outdated and biased; that “tattling” is not necessarily a bad thing, and is similar to whistleblowing, or: taking an active position, or: speaking up against the unjustices of this world.

I happen to have a very strong opinion on the issue, so I kept quiet as long as I could. Then I finally opened my big mouth and sent out a brief email. Like I said, I haven’t received anything from that list since (in fact, I have already asked to unsubscribe me, since I already got the info I needed).

Here’s the email that possibly got me in trouble:

“Thank you! I've been waiting all day for a response like yours!!!! In my 9yo's class, there are 20 kids and everybody tattles on everyone else for everything under the sun! It is so annoying! The teacher BTW, seems OK with the tattling. She called me at work last week to tell me about two things. One, she says, "people tell me that your son and his two best friends have a club". Sheesh. Don't "people" have anything better to do? And the other one was about how a girl overheard my son telling his friend, "In Russia, if you tattle, you get beat up" so guess what? she tattled about that!

This is a serious issue with our family, we do indeed come from Russia. In our home country, millions of people died in the 1930's because they were reported to the KGB by their neighbors, friends, coworkers. We teach our boys that they can only tell on other people if somebody's life or health is in danger. Definitely not for pulling grass. I'm the same way. If my neighbor is running up and down the street waving an ax - yes I will call the police. But if my neighbor didn't mow his lawn - you bet I'm not calling anybody”.

I tried being brief and impersonal, so I left out a lot of things. I didn’t tell them about a sweet old lady that I knew in my college days. Her father died in the 1930's when she was 20. He was a professor and a head of a department, and another man wanted his job. So what the man did was, he sent a report to the KGB, stating that he had seen this woman’s father walking down the street on the day of October Revolution anniversary, singing “God bless the tzar” (the old Russian anthem). Her Dad was immediately arrested, and sent to labor camp at Belomorkanal, where he died of TB a few months later.

Neither did I tell them about a woman that I worked with in the late 80's - early 90's. She had lost her previous job after her coworker found a copy of samizdat in her desk (a book that was banned in the USSR and had been Xeroxed illegally at somebody’s house). When she went to the bathroom, the coworker walked up to her desk, opened the drawer, found the book, and notified the authorities. It took my friend forever to find another job, because, even though she was smart and a hard worker, nobody had the courage to hire a person with a KGB record. I also didn’t tell them about the time my Dad found out that his best friend was an informer for the KGB. I tried to keep it short and sweet, you know.

But bottom line is, I feel very strongly about tattling, reporting, whistleblowing, or whatever it is called today. Don’t get me wrong – I will call the police if somebody’s life is in danger (a lot of Russians I know actually wouldn’t). But I see reporting as a very powerful weapon that can be extremely dangerous when misused. I will not use it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Whereas a lot of people here in America seem to see it as a normal part of our lives.

I know people that would tell on their coworker as easily as they would ask, “Hi, how you’re doing?” – automatically, without giving it any thought. And they are teaching their children to do the same! What I am teaching mine is – if you or somebody else are being physically attacked, or if somebody is in physical danger, then you should tell. Otherwise, please work it out amongst yourselves. If somebody ever has an issue with that, I’m just going to tell them it’s cultural. It’s an old Russian tradition. This usually settles the issue. Nobody wants to object to old ethnic traditions for fear of being called intolerant.

Same goes for whistleblowing, by the way. If your upper management is doing something criminal that’s going to put your company out of business and the employees out of their savings – then, by all means, tell. But going to your boss and telling him that your coworker just had a personal conversation on the phone – sorry, that’s not whistleblowing. That’s tattling; it means that your maturity level is that of a third-grader; and you need to grow up. These are my two cents. Feel free to disagree!

The Goldie has spoken at 9:47 AM

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