Unleashing Your Inner Cop

There was an interesting story on the New York Times Bay Area Blog today about a woman who sent a note to the Berkeley Public Library complaining about the treatment of some insects in the library. The whole story is worth a read, but to paraphrase, this woman felt that the insects on display in the library were being mistreated and she was disturbed by this mistreatment, and she hoped the library would remove the insect display so that her to children would not grow up thinking it was okay to keep insects in captivity. Here’s a little taste of the letter:

… I worry about the message you send to impressionable children by treating insects in such a manner contrary to their natures. I am concerned they will emulate such treatment at home and fail to provide species specific care that individual insects may require or that they may capture and enclosure insects, only to forget about them, leaving them to slowly starve and wither.

Michelle Quinn (the NYTimes blogger) wondered if this letter might have been a parody. And to anyone who hasn’t lived in Berkeley it might seem impossible that the writer of this note could be serious. It’s one of the joys of living in the Bay Area that we get to experience the full spectrum of kookiness. The writer may not have intended the note as humor, but it has provided many of us with a good belly laugh. The comments on the blog entry are very entertaining, too.

Someone left a note on my car the other day, complaining that I could have pulled forward a few inches to allow the person behind me to park “safely, so as not to block the driveway.” At first I was angry, then (with Anna’s patient reminder) I recalled where I was. I realized that most people would probably drive by, look at my car taking up too much space and be pissed off about it, but ultimately decide it’s not worth their time to stop and leave a note. Once I cooled off, I gave the person who left the note a little credit for being willing to state their frustrations directly and unabashedly. (Leaving an anonymous note is a little chicken hearted, but at least it’s direct.) The alternative is that people might be angry with you for something you’ve said or done, but rather than say anything directly to you about it they reserve their criticism to be delivered to your co-workers and friends when you’re not around.

The Berkeley mother who was aggrieved by the Library’s inhumane treatment of their insects errs, mainly, in my opinion, by her failure to sign her note. While there is a long tradition of anonymous pamphleteering and anonymous curmudgeonry on the internet, there is a time to stand up and own your opinions. Otherwise we become isolated and our dialogue is reduced to a series of monologues. There’s no opportunity for nuanced interaction. Certainly for issues of more significance than the humane treatment of insects we owe it to one another to engage in conversation with a spirit of openness.

Posted 4 February 2010 by Mark ·

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