The Rev. Janice Ford, Rector
The Church of the Reconciliation (Episcopal)
5 North Main Street, Webster, MA 01570
As a kid I recall hearing this riddle: What are the best ways to spread gossip? Answer: Telephone, telegraph, tell-a-woman. It was one of those little jokes that men loved to repeat. As I got older I realized two things: one, it really wasn’t that funny; and two, it reinforced a gender stereotype that was harmful to women. This is not to say that I thought women didn’t gossip. It was more about the fact that men do it, too. They just called it something else which our culture thought gave it credence. Men called it discussion. Now, lest you think I am about to engage in male-bashing, let me add that in recent years women have joined the ranks of those who engage in this kind of discussion, and more’s the pity.
A few weeks ago, a good friend shared a particularly difficult situation with me, and asked for my opinion and counsel. She meets with a group of professionals (men and women) once a month to discuss business trends, concerns within their profession, recent articles regarding the work, etc. She has enjoyed these meetings and found them useful. However, she explained that invariably the talk turns to one or two other professionals not in attendance. The talk varied from out and out repudiations of what the absent professionals had said or done, to cruel parodies of how they spoke, or the mannerisms they had. My friend found herself feeling very uncomfortable. Rather than join in, she would remain silent and hope that the conversation would turn to something more useful and pleasant.
We might say that what my friend witnessed was a form of gossip, but I give it an even stronger name. I call it bullying. We have all seen first-hand the horrible effects bullying can have on young people. The recent public efforts to educate young people on the harm of bullying are long overdue. But,what about adults? Perhaps we feel that because a person is no longer a child or teenager, all bets are off, and we can talk or tease without restriction whether the person is absent or present, and they should be able to “just deal with it.” Perhaps we attempt to convince ourselves that “it is all in good fun,” or that we are simply expressing our opinions which happen to be contradictory to that of the other. The truth is that bullying by any other name or description is still unacceptable.
The fact that adults disagree with one another is as old as humankind itself. Clearly, we cannot, and probably should not all have the same opinions on things in this life. However, there are venues available for rational, mature discussions, where both sides are equally represented. What my friend was experiencing was hardly rational, mature, or a discussion, for that matter. It was simply an opportunity for these men and women to gossip, bully, and pontificate at the expense of individuals not present to defend themselves or their positions.
Now, I don’t think I have to state the obvious here, but I will. I sincerely doubt that God tolerates this kind of behavior very well. Because we are dealing with adults in this instance, we do not have the authority we might have in attempting to change the behavior of children. However, I believe God still expects us to act in a way that demonstrates our Christian understanding of how to show respect for one another. That means we need to remove ourselves from the situation at hand, so that perhaps our action will cause the others to ask “why.” If that question is asked, then we have the opportunity to carefully and gently explain the discomfort we feel in a situation where bullying or gossip is being employed. In fact, I told my friend that if she continued to attend these meetings, she was complicit in the harm being done to the others not present. This was tough for her to hear, but because she could see the harm being done, she made the decision to leave the group.
The “happy ending” here would be to tell you that the other members of the group asked my friend why she chose to leave, but sadly, none of them have. My friend and I have come to the conclusion that the others know the answer to the question, so they have decided not to ask. If they ask, then they know they will be hard-pressed not to change their behavior, and that behavior is a pleasure they simply do not wish to give up.
Sin is always pleasurable.
- Monday, 08 October 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Religion