Every neighborhood has one: The nosy neighbor who keeps tabs on people’s comings and goings, tallies the days a car has been parked in the same spot, or complains when a dandelion appears.
With most of the United States under strict stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many of us are getting to know our neighbors better than we ever have (or wanted to) before. If you weren’t aware of the curtain twitchers in your neighborhood before the pandemic, you probably are now. While most encounters with the local busybody during normal times were nothing more than mere annoyances, unsolicited input and comments from neighbors during this forced time at home can evolve into something much more ugly.
Recently, a Colorado 911 dispatcher saw the nasty side of a neighbor when the neighbor sent her a condescending (and terribly uninformed) letter telling her to stay at home. Signing the missive, “All your neighbors,” the neighbor proceeded to tell the dispatcher (in all caps, unsurprisingly) to “STOP LEAVING [her] HOME!” because of various assumptions the neighbor made based on creepily detailed accounts of the dispatcher’s daily routine.
The neighbor’s letter piled on to the already stressful personal and professional coronavirus challenges in the dispatcher’s life. Unfortunately, such rush-to-judgment behavior is becoming more common as this pandemic drags on, and we are all under enormous pressure to stay safe, healthy, employed, and sane. We’ve all seen the social media rants about and public shaming of those who are perceived as “noncompliant” with social distancing rules. It doesn’t have to be this way, though—there are ways that we all can self-moderate and constructively engage our neighbors in dialogue about safety matters.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t call in enforcement or authorities when necessary—there are certainly situations where assistance from law enforcement is essential. But someday (hopefully soon), this crisis will abate. Before speaking out against your neighbor, ask yourself if you’ll still be able to look them in the eye once this is over.