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OPINION

As states reopen, be a neighbor, not a tattletale

By CYNTHIA M. ALLEN | The Fort Worth Star-Telegram | Published: May 5, 2020

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The internet has a name for her: Karen.

She’s the neighborhood busybody who is always complaining, posting passive-aggressive rants on social media, whose frequent diatribes are dripping with righteous indignation and fueled by a sense of moral superiority.

We all know this person (who, despite the name, can be male or female). Indeed, we’ve all probably been a Karen on occasion.

Now, here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic, and the impulse to be one all of the time is overwhelming, but also troubling.

To be fair, it’s a strange time. Local and federal authorities, health experts and businesses are inundating us with the message that the power to save (and threaten) lives is within our hands, based entirely on how far apart we stand in line or even how often we go to the grocery store. That may or may not be true.

Still, it’s not wholly irrational that we should feel imbued with some sense that our individual authority over others, for good or bad, has somehow increased.

We may feel empowered by the government or our own sense of moral influence to report every violation of the current social and business restrictions we see, every time we see one, to the neighborhood and the authorities if necessary. It’s for the greater good, after all. But, to borrow a phrase from the anti-Trump movement, we must resist.

Instead we have to start trusting others to do what is right.

I understand, of course, the desire to report is a difficult one to quash, especially when public officials and office holders are fostering an environment that not only welcomes but rewards a culture of snitching and tattling.

Just last month Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged residents to report violations of social distancing and crowd restriction orders to local authorities and threatened violators with significant fines and jail time.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio created a (thankfully short-lived) hotline to which city dwellers could snap and send a picture of social distancing violators.

Even without elected leaders encouraging us to turn in our neighbors and local businesses, people are eager to pillory their neighbors, cataloging perceived violations of social distancing orders on every social media platform available — the stranger coughing near the grocery carts, the group of kids bike-riding too closely. And it is rarely done in the spirit of goodwill.

Indeed, there have been gratuitous, even flagrant, infractions of social distancing guidelines that warranted intervention. Although in such cases, as we’ve seen elsewhere, information and empathy are more ripe for future compliance than punitive measures.

#Wereinthistogether, after all.

Americans have overwhelmingly supported measures that have slowed the spread and adopted practices to protect themselves and their communities from the virus. They have done this at great personal cost without great need for heavy-handed enforcement. Even without the threat of jail, most people want to do what’s right.

Texas began its first phase of reopening the economy Friday, allowing for the first time in weeks, people to gather in small groups, restaurants to reopen in a limited capacity, and life to start taking the shape it once did.

Adjustments will be hard; individuals and businesses won’t do everything right the first time. Even with limited activities, a spike in infections is inevitable. And despite our inclination to finger-point, it will be no one’s fault in particular.

Not everyone is prepared to participate in this great experiment, and that’s OK. But no greater good is served by ratting out your neighbor’s kids, either.

We’ve made it this far by trusting each other to do what’s best for ourselves, our families and our community. That must continue — and increase — in the weeks to come.

Resist the urge to be a Karen. Just be a good neighbor. Then wash your hands.

Cynthia M. Allen is a Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist.

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