A Culture of Tattletalers

“Mommeeeee!” My sister, Susan yells from our bedroom.  “Janet pulled my hair.”  I hated when Susan tattled on me.  Technically she was right, I did pull her hair, but she fails to share the details of the said pulling.  We were playing beauty parlor, brushing each other’s curls, pretending to style, paint nails and put on lipstick.   Anytime we brush hair we pull it.  In the1960s we knew of no brushes or combs designed for anything but straight, fine hair.  So, putting a brush to Susan’s hair by definition meant I was pulling it.  Susan was a pro when it came to telling on me.  I hated when she did that, because it meant that I would lose another good girl moment to Susan. I would get in trouble even though I meant no harm.  I was six at the time to Susan’s four.

 Now, as an adult, I see similar behavior all the time.  People act as if they’re four years old tattling on a sibling who accidentally wronged them.  The poor reviews online often seem personal.  The writer wants revenge.  They didn’t like something and they want to get back at the merchant, the server, the service person.  Sometimes I fantasize about getting back at someone.  I remember the contractor who almost completed our bathroom.  I was angry and thought of going online to write a bad review.  Instead I reached out to him, told him how disappointed I was and that I could not recommend him.  He came back and begrudgingly finished the job.  He’s not someone I’ll use again, but I felt good about communicating honestly with him.  Last year, I went to a nice restaurant and received mediocre service.  I mentioned something to the server.  He tried harder, though I doubt he’ll ever be a great server.  Nonetheless, it was not personal.   He just isn’t talented as a server.  I don’t always like speaking up for myself, but it feels better than going behind someone’s back to get revenge.  If I don’t speak up then the incident or person stays in my mind.  By saying something to them directly, there’s a better chance I can let it go.

This goes on in workplaces, too.  No one wants to speak directly to the person who is causing problems.  We go to supervisors, gossip with co-workers, or act out when around the possible offender.  We may not always like something, but work and life might be more pleasant if we could communicate to one another about what we don’t like.  I can complain with the best of them, but do I really need to get a virtual stranger in trouble?  Sometimes I want to, but then I think of Susan, and remember I was not a happy recipient of her tattling.  No need to perpetuate childish behavior.  Or, maybe I prefer my righteousness to being a tattletale.  Even so,  if we all could have the courage to talk to those who upset us, we may experience the possibility of repair.    

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