Opinion: On Silencing the “Mean Girls in the Cafeteria.”

Nantucket is a wonderful place with a great community and so much to be grateful for. When someone is in trouble, neighbors spring into action to help. Lost dogs. Seed scallop stranding. A loss from a fire. A boat that needs to be hauled off the bottom of the harbor. Someone has trouble paying medical bills. We have all helped and have attended the fundraisers. 

But Nantucket has a mean and nasty side as well. People whose sole purpose in life is to divide the community, tear others down and make their neighbors feel unhappy. (This almost exclusively takes place on Facebook, where people usually throw rotten tomatoes from behind the relative safety of their laptops.) Here’s a quick checklist that will help you identify them: 

  1. They talk about (usually attack) people, rather than issues or ideas.
  2. They question others’ motives.
  3. They say things without knowing the facts — they spread rumors.
  4. They justify their behavior and attitudes by claiming “native” or “local” status. (Which is a lite form of bigotry, if you ask me.)
  5. They never offer a solution to a problem.

Never has this been more apparent in the island-wide discussion over regulating short-term rentals. I was working for ACK•Now at the time and all evidence pointed to the rise of short-term rentals being the cause of many of the island’s problems, not the least of which was the lack of reliable year-round housing. A small minority of people within the community were relentless in their attacks on the organization. But they never talked about the idea. They attacked the people who brought the idea forward — good people who really only wanted to do something good for the community were dragged through the toxic mud of negative public opinion. Including me. 

I used to lose some sleep over these people. But recently a couple of bits of wisdom have come across my radar screen that allowed me to sleep like a baby. 

First, I saw a quote that is usually attributed to Babe Ruth: “The loudest boos always come from the cheapest seats.” and it reminded me that the negative sentiments — without fail — come from people who have invested close to nothing in the community. To them, this is sport. They care only for themselves and for no one else. 

Second, I read a book entitled, Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life by Radha Agrawal. And the author refers to the people who are toxic and negative about one’s ideas and life as the proverbial “Mean Girls in the Cafeteria.” That was an ah-ha moment for me. “Mean Girls in the Cafeteria.” described these people — both men and women, but mostly men — perfectly. Mean, catty, toxic, and cliquish. And most importantly, in the long run, the “Mean Girls in the Cafeteria” are of zero consequence to those of us who are trying to do good things for the community. They are nothing more than an annoyance and a small one at that. 

So why am I telling you all this? Because one of the goals of the Nantucket Owner’s Manual is to silence the “Mean Girls in the Cafeteria.” To be part of the conversation here means that you need to be willing to work on a solution, not just criticize the work of others. You need to buy into the idea of leaving the island better than we found it, or at least try. And, perhaps most importantly, to be part of the conversation here you have to be literally invested. There are no cheap seats to boo from. 

It’s relatively certain that some of the things we do here will find their way to Facebook and will be criticized by the “Mean Girls in the Cafeteria.” But I will not engage on Facebook. Our goal is to get good ideas reviewed, vetted, and into the public’s hands. We can do that without wading into the cesspool. 

Life is too short to spend one moment sitting at a table with the “Mean Girls.”

Addendum: If you are one of the “Mean Girls” and you are reading this, I hope that you can find some way to create a little kindness and peace in your lives. You sure as hell need it.