When I was a kid and the neighbor boys plagued me by calling names or throwing rocks I had a foolproof weapon to fire back. I opened my mouth and as loud as I could, hollered Mahhhhhm! Invariably my mother would appear and shoo my tormentors off with a scowl. As I grew older she’d scowl at me and say, “Don’t be a tattletale… solve it yourself.”
It was always irritating when one of my kids would come nipping at my heels, tittle-tattling with a whine, So-and-so hit me! or So-and-so is getting into chocolate chips! Sheesh! “Don’t be a tattletale… solve it yourself,” I would snap, sounding just like my mom.
So when is tattling the right methodology? Perhaps when the dialogue goes something like this? Mahhhhhm! Chloe is running out into the street! or… Mahhhhhm! Ryker is throwing a butcher knife! or… Mahhhhhm! I think Syed and Tashfeen are building pipe bombs in the garage! Appropriate snitching? Duh, you think?
Back in the dark ages tattling on neighbors could send them to the guillotine. In Nazi Germany tattling on Jews could send them to the gas chamber. What’s the difference between those circumstances and the refrain IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING? Well for one thing, in France and Germany if you snitched you inevitably harmed others. If the outcome of tattling damages another person it probably ain’t right. Likewise, if your silence has the potential to cause injury, that ain't right either.
A few months ago I put this theory to the test. It was a week or so before 9/11 when I observed something strange at the splash pad where I had taken my grandchildren. Sitting at a patio table were two Middle Eastern-looking men talking attentively to a large Caucasian redheaded woman. They were out of place among the parents and grandparents watching their children play. I drew close enough to overhear a foreign dialect and one of the men interpreting the conversation to the woman. I distinctly heard the word “arms.” True, they could have been talking about appendages, but when they saw that I was suspicious their behavior changed. I snapped a couple of pictures with my cell phone before herding my grandchildren to the car. I decided to share my experience with law enforcement. I have to admit I was nervous that they’d think me paranoid, Islamaphobic or prejudiced against large white redheads. I shook it off and gave my report along with the pictures I had taken.
An hour or so later two Homeland Security agents showed up at my door. They asked me questions and courteously listened to my account. They seemed appreciative of my observations. Now I don’t know what happened but I like to think I played a part in thwarting a potential threat. In this case tattling didn’t cause harm to anyone and actually may have helped prevent a dangerous situation.
In this day and age being an annoying tattletale can be an invaluable tool against bullies who want to terrorize the neighborhood. Calling Mahhhhhm! could actually save lives.