“Snitching”: Can We Overcome a Tribal Attitude?
Author: Kyle M
17 November 2017
Recent events have caused me to think about a particular mentality: “snitches get stitches.” At Shorecrest, the Honor Council is promoting a “culture of honor” in which students actively police themselves and others for cheating, stealing, lying, and bigotry. At the same time, Hollywood is struggling with revelations that, for years, hundreds or thousands of people have known about – and, more significantly, done nothing about – sexual assaults and harassment by men in powerful positions.
I’m not here to offer a lecture on the importance of honesty and forthrightness. After all, the idea that “ratting out” an individual should be discouraged is understandable. Why should we intentionally do something that damages the reputation – or more – of someone close to us? Our brain’s natural impulse is that because this person is close to us, by hurting him or her, we hurt ourselves. We weaken our in-group.
Yet the widespread Hollywood scandals demonstrate why this kind of thinking is dangerously faulty. When enough individuals in a community subconsciously agree that “snitches get stitches” (stitches, in this case, being lost career opportunities and ostracism), the community as a whole suffers. This is why Hollywood – as well as other parts of American society, such as the business community and the political class – is being forced to take a hard look at some uncomfortable truths about the treatment of women.
Let’s bring this back to Shorecrest. It is undeniable, given the above Hollywood example, that rule-breaking like cheating, on-campus drug use, and bullying, damage the community as a whole. If we accept this, then we must find the proper way to address it. And this is where I might surprise you – the best way to address some issues may not, in fact, be reporting it.
Don’t get me wrong here. If you feel that you should report something, do it. Officially, it’s what you’re supposed to do. More abstractly, you lose no moral high ground, no respect, nothing. You are serving as a community builder by helping to root out destructive activity, and you have my admiration (whatever that’s worth). This is almost universally the best option.
That said, I’m a pragmatist. I know that most people can’t “rat out” a close friend. That’s the disconnect between the “official” rule and the reality of most situations. For these people who know someone did something wrong but can’t bring themselves to report it – and I know these people exist – confronting the person may be more impactful.
If you know that a friend cheated, for example, then pull him or her aside and discuss it privately. It may not be a discussion either of you want to have, but it’s one that has to happen. You know that cheating is wrong; you should impress that upon him or her – and strongly encourage your friend to come forward with it instead of being caught later. The more friends that do this, the more impactful it will be.
It’s absolutely key that our community does not ostracize those who choose to support the rules, one way or the other. Even if you feel a particular rule is unjust or wrong, there are legitimate avenues to advocate for change, from Student Council to a petition to meeting with administration members in private. I’ve found that, when I’ve been a thorn in the administration’s side, they’ve been open to compromise and understanding. They’re less likely to be so if you’re already breaking the rules in the first place.
If we are to build successful communities, we all have a responsibility to address serious rule-breaking in the best way we can. Much as the post-Weinstein ever-expanding fallout should result in reform and a culture shift, Shorecrest students should fight the tribal impulse to protect friends and consider a wider perspective.