Friday, August 15, 2014

...the thing I can't abide

Great minds discuss ideas
Average minds discuss events
Little minds discuss people

Attributed to
Eleanor Roosevelt, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover,
and that ever-wise Anonymous

Overheard, a conversation between two women, their voices unmodulated. Perhaps they thought - mistakenly - that the modern light fixture overhead was some new-fangled cone of silence. Hapless dining neighbors tried not to hear as the pair picked clean the bones of their mutual object of scorn. Once the cadaver was sent to the Morgue of Dead Conversations, the next person was rolled out. This second conversation was less attacking...along the lines of "bless her heart, you know that her husband..." What ensued was a second/third/fourth-hand public discourse on a family's sorrows.

What satisfies us, temporarily but often, to discuss/diss/diminish our fellow travelers? For starters, I don't have to look too closely at my own issues if I focus on yours. Or perhaps the dishee du jour echoes some personal unhappiness...a loss, a struggle with another's problems, a broken relationship. What remains unhealed within me festers and I'm left to pick at the scabs. I've been on both sides of the conversation and hear me: well-intentioned or satisfying know-it-all words have serious repercussions for all involved. Listening to gossip but not "participating" is akin to being a little-bit pregnant. I now say, "I"m uncomfortable with this conversation since I don't know the facts." Because a better person than I told me to say this.

Whatever sins had been committed by the lunch subject, gossip was never mentioned. Practiced at their table with pleasure and skill but never once called out as a deadly scourge. Given the proximity of the nearest table, I can attest that much of the information passed back and forth at full volume fell under dubious source headings..."so and so's neighbor heard", "my cousin's yardman said", and the ever-popular "I just bet..." and "No one has to tell me. I know..." Dicing and slicing, hashing and re-hashing, they were still at it when I left.

Now gossip has gone viral. The social media is an unholy cutting board. Lies are spread. People dissected. The old-fashioned folded newspaper has unfolded into an e-format with outrageous comments by anonymous forum trolls who attract offensive followers. How vile the creature who sent Robin William's daughter Photoshopped pictures of her father supposedly lying on a morgue table with bruises on his neck.

Words hurt. And wounded people wound. Even when I know the speaker is a damaged soul, the ripple effect of the gossip - the pleasure others take in listening, passing it forward and preaching - impacts me. Or my family. The choices are to participate or ignore. The first is just plain wrong and the second is hard. Forgiveness for all involved takes time but if I don't, the result is more pain. Your opinion of me is none of my business. You're entitled to your feelings. I'm not responsible for any one else, thank heavens. I have enough trouble with my own character defects. Here's my litmus test. When I feel compelled to go out of my way to convince others, I ask myself "Why?" If, when I'm confronted repeatedly, I ask "Why would hearing this give me pleasure?"

Is the impact of gossip worth a few minutes of malicious pleasure? Do I pass on an earlier layer of loose talk in order to justify my dislike of another person or ignore my deficits and chance that my source is as wrong as my own oh-so-good but, in fact, spiteful intentions? What am I trying to fix...and what might I ultimately destroy? Whatever personal experience exists, none among us can know the full story of another's life or the depth of someone's pain or fears. A careless chatfest is the first cousin of character assassination and lying. Oh, what a tangled web...

If I can't communicate honestly and civilly with others, if I don't demand media standards and dedicated moderators, if I seek out the lowest-common-denominator sources because they tell me what I want to hear, I'm part of the problem.

...from a United Methodist minister:
If every detail of every life were known, we could hate no one. 

But some of the hateful words I see and hear daily make this a challenge as never before.
I do know who said this...a good beginning and solid advice.

Clean around your own doorstep.
Granny and Mother

Leave the world a little better.