Journaling: Eavesdropping Next Door 

Bruce Apar is Editorial Director + Associate Publisher of River Journal North

Mom + Pop Culture are a couple of real characters. They could be you, or me, or your in-laws, or the people next door you stopped talking to around the same time social media became the preferred means of  miscommunication and misinformation and antagonizing each other at the slightest provocation. Let’s listen in on their current topic of convo.  

POP (pointing in no particular direction): Mom, what is that thing they’re doing over there?
MOM: Over where, Pop?
POP: You know, that thing they’re doing on the road into town, on that empty lot with the earth movers.
MOM: Why don’t you try asking the gossip mavens who hang around that Picket Fence online community? I’ll bet they know. And even if they don’t know, they’ll speculate.
POP: That’s what Picket Fence is for – speculation!
MOM: You know the definition of “speculation,” Pop? Quote, “The forming of a theory without firm evidence.”
POP:  You’re just no fun.
MOM: I picket Picket Fence because I never mastered the dark art of gossip. 
POP: What about all the wonderful ways people on Picket Fence help each other find services and offer recommendations to each other?
MOM: Point taken. But it helps to have a healthy skepticism about those peer reviews of restaurants and other places that seem intent on bashing someone’s hard-earned livelihood.
POP: I’m all ears …
MOM: A person’s anecdotal bad experience in a restaurant doesn’t make it a universal experience, but apparently they still need to shout it from the rooftops so the universe can mete out its punishment.
POP: They’re performing a public service.
MOM: Seems to me they’re shaming the business for the fleeting satisfaction that washes over them. Odds are the actual experience was not as intolerable and shame-worthy as they amp it up to appear, with eye-bleeding screeds that favor exclamation points and all-caps and what passes for grammar in the guttural demimonde of social media. 
POP: You’re on a roll.
MOM: I’m just getting started, darling, because what’s worse is when other people – total strangers! – chime in on the complainer’s post with gratuitous comments like, “Oh, that is so wrong! I’ve never eaten there and now never will.”
POP: Do you blame their reacting that way?
MOM: Yeah, I do, especially if they are not familiar with the basher who penned the poisonous thread or never patronized the business that is the bashee. There needs to be sensible moderation.
POP: And who is the moderator, you?
MOM: No. Not me.
POP: Then who?
MOM: The moderator is Common Sense. Empathy. Exercising the Will Power to restrain yourself from getting sucked up into someone else’s psychodrama when you never witnessed first-hand whatever seismic shock to their system is described.  Without having all the relevant facts at our disposal, we too easily can become like the bloodthirsty mob mentality depicted in The Ox-Bow Incident.
POP: I didn’t hear about that. Did you see it on the news?
MOM: You can look it up. In the meantime, I’ll leave you hanging. 


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About the Author: Bruce Apar