Altruism…maybe, maybe not

Ever since that horrible day in American history known as 9/11 there has been a noticeable and dramatic increase in the government asking the public to keep their eyes on their neighbors. Homeland Security and related agencies – transportation authorities, hospitality services, etc. – have been drilling into our heads over and over if you see something that doesn’t look right, make a call. Let someone know about that bag that’s been left behind. Call someone over about the ticking you hear in a nearby backpack. And that’s all well and good. The idea that we’re all looking out for each other is rather comforting.

But when does it go too far? When does a genuine concern over something you witness turn into a subconscious desire to bring someone else down?  Turning in drug dealers is great. If you notice that supposedly “abandoned” house at the end of the block getting visitors in and out at all hours of the night, please call the cops and see if they can find out what the blackout curtains are for. That’s fine by me, but this is a slippery slope that some people are just all too willing to slide down. It seems that some people feel it’s their civic duty to keep an eye and thumb on everything going down in their neighborhood.  Those are the ones who slid alllll the way down that slippery slope and gleefully landed in the sludge at the bottom.

Stalking someone simply because they have on a hoodie or calling the police or the local HOA because someone has parked their car on their own grass? (worth repeating…on their own grass). Not exactly what I would call looking out for the safety of the neighborhood. That’s just being a jerk. More examples? A hawk-eyed neighbor sees a mother having a simple birthday party for her kids in her backyard (paper plates, Dixie cups, a sparse amount of balloons, white paper napkins, home-made Duncan Hines cake) and reports her because they think that’s a misappropriation of her food stamp funds. Oh come on, they can’t use the food stamps to have fun people!!

Or someone sees the kids and Mom at a cheap matinée show and that must mean they’re living the high life and can obviously make some cuts to truly earn those government funds. Never mind that the mom might be working two jobs. Never mind the budgeting she does every evening in the hopes of finding an extra dollar here and there. Never mind that she might not have bought a new pair of shoes from Payless for herself in over two years. I figure if you can’t see into her home life, it’s best to reserve judgment and just let her be happy the few moments that she can. If she were chartering jets for the kids to go to school or is a regular at the Apple store buying stacks of iPads, maybe you should pick up the phone. But giving her kids a carton of Neapolitan ice cream isn’t what I would call an offensive use of money.

Then there are the people who receive disability or SSI benefits from the government. Some healthy individuals out there actually think that to be sick you must always look sick too. The symptoms of MS or PTSD or Lupus or Cancer (to name a few) can often be masked, but they’re real and viable and crippling afflictions. Yet without a visible limp or missing limb they are deemed unworthy of receiving assistance thereby filling some people with this uncontrollable need to call someone, anyone, to make sure that this atrocity is immediately halted.

It’s bad enough when strangers report other strangers out of anger or jealousy, but it happens amongst friends and neighbors too. It’s as if one person claiming they need financial help and the judgment by their “friend” that they don’t is an insult that can only be corrected by turning them in. The “friend” sneaks around taking pictures of the afflicted neighbor not hobbling down the sidewalk, or lifting a grocery bag that looks heavy. Notes are taken and an unofficial record of their activity is compiled through the help of some nifty new binoculars…all in the effort of making a strong claim that their side of the story is the correct one and the neighbor should cease receiving help immediately.  All I can think of is “wouldn’t their time be better spent elsewhere??”  I mean if they truly want to make the world a better place, couldn’t they use that energy to volunteer at a shelter or a community “clean-up” or I don’t know….actually helping their less fortunate neighbors?

I realize that welfare and disability fraud are unfair acts that ultimately cost all of the taxpayers (personally I think the hand-outs corporations get are a lot worse). And I know there are those who abuse the system. However, I question the motives of people who look for a reason to turn someone in and then claim they’re just doing their civic duty.  Especially when it’s a neighbor or worse yet, someone you previously called friend. Is this altruism in action?  Not likely.  More like spite.  Spite because for some reason they don’t like seeing a person receiving the assistance. Spite because as the unofficial neighborhood protector they feel like nothing should happen unless it’s approved by them. And when it comes to community affairs (like parking your car in your own yard or painting your house a certain color), what purpose could there be to turn this person in?  Certainly not altruistic.

 

what "neighborhood watch" looks like at my house

what “neighborhood watch” looks like at my house

8 thoughts on “Altruism…maybe, maybe not

  1. Unfortunately, nearly every neighborhood has its share of busybodies who feel compelled to insert themselves into the private lives of others. Whether out of jealousy, a concern that someone is getting away with something, or spite, they can’t help but stick their noses into other people’s business. It’s inescapable, I’m afraid.

  2. Part of the problem is that there is no punishment for making a false or malicious report. Family Services is routinely used as a vehicle for feuds. Don’t like your neighbors? Then you can get them involved in an invasive and expensive legal action against the State, with no risk that they will be told that you are the one behind it.

    • That’s an excellent point. I’ve seen that in divorce cases too and with family who are angry with other family members. It’s good to be a voice for the children if there is truly something going on, but it’s horrific to use the system just out of spite and to cause problems for people.

  3. The intent of a policy like “see something – say something” is good, but these things are so open-ended that people can interpret that any way they want. And, as others have said here, those with nothing better to do or who tend to be suspicious in the first place, can abuse what is meant to be a protective mechanism, turning it into an exploitative one. Very good topic and I love your neighborhood watch captain there. 🙂

    • Thank you — he is always on guard!! : ) And you’re absolutely right, either out of spite, an overwhelming need to be in control, or just because they’re overly suspicious, people abuse the “see something, say something” system. It’s a sad waste of resources because each complaint must be checked out and it’s unethical and unfair when it’s done simply because the whistle-blower has an ax to grind with the recipient.

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