I had no idea that I had a raging problem with gossip until this past year. For the purpose of this post, I define gossip as any kind of talk about a person or institution that is unhelpful, harmful, or slanderous. (I just typed that and realized that it is a pretty standard definition. Whatever.)
I spent the last year kind of checked out of personal relationships outside of immediate family. I did not do this for the purpose of rehabilitating my gossiping ways, but because I needed time to heal my mind and emotions after 18 years with MS and then the very real trauma of having an international bone marrow transplant to get rid of the MS. I’d go back to Russia and do the whole thing again in a heartbeat if I had to, but there is no denying that the experience was way bigger than I was prepared to deal with in a social setting.
Being checked out of the fast paced world of girls’ night out and meeting up for coffee made me keenly aware of how often those get togethers devolved into lengthy conversations about people – bless their hearts. Even worse was when I realized that talking about others was my own personal default setting for chats. I never considered it gossip for a couple of reasons: 1) I was going to talk about the person’s problems in an effort to try and help that person. 2) I would never want my words to hurt others and my intentions made all the difference, right?
Here is what I now know: talking about people is almost never helpful. I say “almost” because there are a few instances when talking about others is extremely helpful. Examples: 1) “Hey, do you guys think it looks like Suzy is choking? Hey! She is choking! Let’s heimlich maneuver her back to life!” 2) “Don’t tell Pam, but I’m buying her a new car.” 3) “Because her drinking is out of control, and we are among her most trusted and loved friends, we should have a loving talk with her.”
All the instances I just mentioned involved one final outcome: the person of topic is eventually made aware in a loving manner of the behind their back conversations. In all of the mentioned scenarios, the person is only being talked about because of genuine concern and love.
Gossip also involves love and concern, but it is love and concern for self. Talking about the failures of others highlights my own lack of failure in the same area. I can easily convince myself that I am a health nut if I only talk about the idiot Mom I saw feeding her kids high fructose corn syrup, bless her heart. I can excuse my own hoarding by exposing the obscene hoarding of others. I can easily forgive my occasional bouts of anger when I spend hours discussing how others have a problem controlling their own. Give me enough idle hours picking someone apart, and I can even become convinced that I am the very hero who needs to sit that person down for a chat about how far they have fallen. (Chats born of such gossip never end well. I am ashamed to admit how many times I’ve had to repeat that occurrence to realize it.)
I like talking about ideas and this often means discussing the people who present the ideas. That’s okay. I like talking about ways the Church can be more effective in spreading the Gospel and this sometimes means talking about the ways it is failing. That is okay. I like sharing recipes and that sometimes means talking about people I know who are terrible cooks and have no business pretending they are good at it. That is not okay.
It is extremely rare for talking about someone to be a good and helpful thing. It is extremely common for it to end miserably for all involved. It grieves me to know that I’m a gossiper and I flinch at the memories of certain conversations. This blog post comes to you from my recovery ward and I hope it causes all of us to consider a different level of chatter.