Texan Jeannie C. Riley became the first female recording artist with a song topping both the pop and country charts. The hit, “Harper Valley PTA,” tells the story of a small-town single parent who is thought to be a less-than-fit mother. The institution sends a note home with the middle school child to admonish Mom to clean up her act. In a how-dare-you-judge-me moment, the outraged Mrs. Johnson marches off to a PTA meeting to be held that very day. Confronting the assembled volunteers and officials, she lambasts them by delineating each of their own moral shortcomings.
We can all find a little satisfaction in lashing out at someone who dares to critique us. We are good people, right? So, let’s teach those who might criticize that they’d better be ready for some public humiliation. In the last line, the lyrics triumphantly proclaim it to have been “the day Mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA!”
Generally, it is a good idea to live and let live. We refrain from the nominal opinion about others and expect that they do the same for us. But is there a time when judgement is not only prudent but required? Do we express concern when the teenager next door seems a little too fixated on weapons? Do we do the same when the one on the other side seems a little too eager to smoke illicit substances? Are we perfect enough to throw a stone? Probably not. Still, do we have an obligation to risk being shamed by the angry Mrs. Johnson to urge her better provision for the minor in her care? Our own shortcomings may release us from the duty, if there is one, to help hold society together, but there must be times when we cannot stay silent.