Rule #7: Don’t Tell on Bullies
We are so concerned about getting people to be nice to each other, but we easily forget that one of the meanest things you can do to people is try to get them in trouble with the authorities. If you’re not sure about this, try the following experiment. The next time you hear your neighbors yelling at their children, report them to your local child abuse prevention agency – and let your neighbors know you were the one who made the call! You’ll see how popular you become in your neighborhood. (I am not referring to incidents of true abuse, only yelling.)
Unfortunately, modern society is increasingly encouraging people to be informers. The government passes laws making all kinds of bullying behavior illegal, which means that we no longer have to deal with mean people on our own. We can now turn to the legal authorities to punish people whenever we don’t like the way they treat us. We are telling kids in school, “telling is not tattling.” Zero-tolerance policies in the workplace are directing employees to complain to management whenever a coworker does something that upsets them. Our country put so much effort into toppling the “Evil Empire” known as the Soviet Union, only to be emulating their abominable practice of instructing their citizens to inform on their comrades – including their own parents! – for violating Party rules. “Big Brother” does not require sophisticated electronic surveillance to deprive people of their freedom. All that is needed is a citizenry trained to inform on each other to the authorities.
While the government can punish us for upsetting people, regretfully it can’t force us to like and respect one another. If I get you punished for the crime of insulting my racial or religious group, are you going to want to make a charitable donation to my group and invite me over for dinner? You’ll probably feel like blowing us up!
When people are doing or saying things against Jews – as long as there is no immediate threat to our bodies or property – about the worst thing to do is rush to report them to the authorities. Instead, we should talk to them directly, not with anger, but as to friends. Ask them sincerely why they are doing or saying it. If there is something wrong about their motivation or understanding, let them know what their mistake is. If they insist on continuing to do what you believe is wrong, talk to them again, but without anger. Pain, yes; anger, no.
If their actions are breaking the law, tell them something like, “I would hate to see you getting in trouble.” The implication is that you are trying to protect them from punishment by giving them a chance to stop their illegal activity. If they still insist on breaking the law, then it is appropriate to inform the legal authorities. But only do so if their actions may result in objective harm to people. Just because something is technically illegal, it doesn’t mean that you must get the authorities involved. Jaywalking is illegal, but when is the last time you called the police on someone crossing on red?