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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Snitch Mentality

This has been smoldering for some time.

The Snitch Mentality

We learn it early in life.  As children on the playground we quickly learn that playmates will be sharply critical of those who say “I’m going to tell”.  So we, being the children we were, acquiesce to peer pressure and accept that being a snitch is a bad thing, or, if not a bad thing, something that we simply do not want to be.

It happens so easily.  A child with a good moral compass that sees a wrong and says “I’m going to tell” is often easily persuaded to overlook the “wrong” to avoid being labeled a snitch.  After all, friends don’t tell on friends.  Do they?  Well, do they!

I should mention that being a tattletale and reporting everything a sibling does that irritates you is not being a snitch, that is simply being a tattletale.  When a “wrong” committed by a friend, relative or associate is noted and reported that is being a snitch.  Sounds reasonable that being a snitch is a bad thing, doesn’t it?

Well, let me reconstruct that sentence without the distracting information about relatives and friends. “When a wrong is noted and reported that is being a snitch”.  Now it sounds like being a snitch is the right thing to do, and it is.

Minor incidents of wrongs on the playground such as a small lie, finding a lost article and not turning it in, taking a coin that you saw someone drop, or knowing and not reporting the crib notes on a classmate’s hand may seem trivial in an adult world, but here’s the problem.  Once you break the rules and characterize not doing the right thing as not being a snitch you have given yourself mental permission to behave poorly.  The permission does not disappear when you become an adult.

The “snitch mentality” is alive and well in our culture.  Not by all of our citizens, but surely by many.  If your brother does contract work and brags that he does no report income when paid in cash are you really going to report him to the IRS?  If your sister falsely exaggerates losses on an insurance claim do you simply shrug?  Easy enough, in both cases, to excuse their behavior by saying the family needs to stick together.   And, even thought you might experience a mental twinge of moral wrong you don’t want to be a snitch.

At this point let me introduce a requirement associated with being a snitch.  It requires a social attachment.  Reporting a wrong committed by a complete stranger with whom we have no social attachment is, considered by most, as simply being a good citizen.  Reporting a wrong doer that is a friend, a relative, of the same race, a work colleague, belongs to the same clique, or is a member of the same gang - that is being a snitch.

So, if a social connection exists, is not reporting a wrong doer the right thing to do?  In the black and white most would say no and even strongly support reporting the wrong doer.  But that is not necessarily what happens in a world with shades of gray.

Loyalty to family can cause the most moral of persons to hesitate where they might not otherwise.  Gang peer pressure can do the same, as can a simple friendship.

Guilt can also play a large part.  Your friend pleads with you not to say anything because it will “get them in trouble”.  Truly a request to cover-up by omission, which, should be an insult to your integrity, but because of the social relationship not only are you not insulted you are persuaded to “go along”.  You don’t want to be a snitch.

This narrative and others like it are not likely to change the behavior of a large number of individuals, but it might influence a few.  Our lives and thought processes are too cluttered to always do the right thing.  Still, most people have a good moral compass and know, in their heart, when a wrong has been committed.

So, use that knowledge, do the right thing, and leave the “snitch mentality” on the elementary school playground - where it belongs.


  1. This is very good.

    Sometimes it combines with other things. I have a relative who claims to know someone who "Collects unemployment while working a full time job 'off the books'" I have asked why he doesn't report it and he says they wouldn't do anything anyway.

    Whether the cheat here really exists I don't know. It may just be a way to complain about cheats that may or may not exist.

    I have one acquaintance who responds to all such things with: "Don't tell me about it if you don't want it reported."

  2. Just out of curiosity, how do you feel about Edward Snowden's snitching?

    1. The rules apply to Edward as well.

    2. It's hard to argue with that.