Originally posted on January 13, 2011. I haven’t been feeling well lately and am taking a short writing break while I recover.
Let’s begin with a one-sentence working definition of gossip for the purpose of this post: saying or listening to information (true or otherwise) about someone that you wouldn’t feel comfortable participating in if that person was standing next to you.
Between a difficult half-dozen or so years in school and growing up as a preacher’s kid in a series of small, insular towns I spent a good chunk of my childhood avoiding the ridiculous stories other people shared about me and my family.
The most important lesson I learned from those experiences is that it’s never just gossip. Listening to or spreading the latest juicy earful, even if it seems to be harmless speculation, can permanently damage your relationships for the following reasons:
It erodes trust. Most people consistently exhibit the same types of behaviours over time. If someone wants to share the latest titillating rumour about so-and-so I can only assume that they’re saying equally unflattering things about me when I’m not around. This makes it extremely difficult to share anything with them that I’m not ready for the entire world to know and if I can’t trust someone with at least some private or highly personal information we probably won’t be spending much time together in the future.
Words have sharp edges. They can destroy reputations and annihilate a lifetime of trust in one conversation. If I’m going to influence someone else’s life I want to build them up instead of tearing them down. Destruction is easier and faster but the only thing it leaves behind is emotional rubble. I want to be and do more than that.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Outward appearances and our assumptions about what is going on should never be taken as substitutions for the truth. They can point towards it but ultimately we can never truly know what is in the heart or mind of someone else unless and until they tell us.
Criticism is a habit. The more you practice it the easier it is to view others, the world and yourself with a critical and unforgiving eye. We need more grace and acceptance in our lives, not nitpicking or condemnation so this is how I try to treat both others and myself. Criticism does have its place in certain situations…but I believe it is a far smaller one than most people think.
I’d include celebrity “gossip” in this as well. Hearing that so-and-so is getting married, having a baby or won a prestigious award is fine. Rumours about alleged personal problems or nit-picking someone else’s appearance, family status or religious/ethical beliefs are activities that I find rather offensive. If it isn’t something I’d want to be said about me or someone I love why would it be somehow ok to do it to a stranger?
Two of my favourite cartoonists posted strips on the same topic on the same day recently.
David Hayward had this to say about emotional cages. Nina Paley added her own twist:
Both reminded me of an incident last week here in Toronto. A young squeegee kid and a middle-aged motorist allegedly got into a violent confrontation after the young man dripped dirty water onto to the older man’s vehicle. The motorist ended up with a nasty gash on his head. This article describes the incident in more detail. Fair warning for sensitive readers: the video embedded in it includes graphic photographs of the injury.
What I find most interesting in all of this is how much we assume that our responses to hypothetical situations are the only rational ones. People who are enraged by this incident seem to think we should fight off these encounters with as much force as is necessary to protect our families and possessions. Others point out how humiliating it must be to be constantly treated poorly by everyone else because you are homeless and urge compassion for the alleged assailant.
I don’t know what to think other than I suspect that our reactions to events that don’t personally affect us have a hell of a lot more to do with what is inside of us than what is going on in other people. Can this be changed? I don’t know. This isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. It is just what it is.
What do you think?
I no longer want to be enemies with myself.
This phrase captured my imagination as soon as I noticed it in the search logs for this blog.
Why might someone have such inner turmoil?
- They have guilt, warranted or otherwise.
- They’re not comfortable in their own skin.
- “The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles me.” – variously attributed.
(No doubt there are explanations that I’ve missed!) I wish I could know more about the person who typed that phrase. The smallest error floods some of us with guilt while others who have done much more harmful things barely register a pinprick of remorse on their consciences. Was the creator of this phrase someone who agonized over things that aren’t actually flaws? Maybe he or she saw something in someone else that reminded him or her of personal failings?
What lead to this decision? I’d like to think that he or she chose to try something new before it became more painful to stick to the old ways than it did to embrace something new. Change can be difficult enough when it’s done voluntarily.
Beyond (emotional?) battlefields of the past has come a new chapter in this individual’s life. Swords have been beaten into ploughshares, old wounds are finally scabbing over. We don’t know yet what is to come but it’s bound to be something incredible.
Incidentally, I ran my own Internet search on this phrase. According to my results there don’t appear to be any websites or articles out there on how to make the switch from being an enemy with yourself to working together. Maybe it isn’t something that the average person can just wake up one morning and decide to do? What do you think?
Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid of his home in Pakistan over the weekend. I found out about this last night when Drew logged onto one of his social networking sites.
The first wave of reactions: nearly universal glee.
This makes me uncomfortable. Yes, Osama was responsible for decades of severe human suffering. I completely understand feeling relieved or happy that he can no longer orchestrate the injury or death of anyone but there’s something that bothers me about spontaneous outdoor parties celebrating the fact that someone else is no longer alive.
Osama’s death is the end of possibilities. When someone is still alive there is always the hope of rehabilitation. A corpse can’t be tried in a court of law or sentenced for his crimes. The dead cannot atone for what they have done any more than they help those they have hurt find closure. Death is the last sentence in the life story of an individual. The loose strings of everything left unsaid and unlearned flap in the breeze. In this case there are a a hell of a lot of strings.
A single death isn’t going to nullify the danger of al-Qaeda. If anything I’ve read speculation that it will energize their followers and we will see more acts of violence against innocent people in retaliation. I hope these predictions are wrong, that if nothing else Osama’s death will mark the beginning of the end of their power.
No comment on what the U.S. should or could have done instead. I don’t know what the best answer is but neither can I celebrate the death of another human being.
A final thought. I’m borrowing this from the Facebook page of a friend but will leave self-identification up to that individual. 🙂
As you talk about this news, I hope you will consider how your response can counter rather than reinforce the cycles of violence that spin around us. And please God, help us bring healing beauty to the ugliness of violence in whatever small way we can. Today.