"Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people."Socrates
I grew up in a family of gossips. The elders’ conversations were filled with trash talk about other sisters and brothers who were never there to defend themselves. Worse yet, they intermingled and gossiped about the ones they were gossiping with on a rotating basis. Sadly I developed distaste for one of my aunts to a large extent because my mom and another aunt spent their lives degrading her. Even sadder I grew ever dissatisfied with my own mom as a result of the ongoing gossip instigated by Mom’s closest sister.
I married into a family where my mother-in-law went from household to household talking bad about the other siblings and their families. It didn't take me long to figure out when she wasn’t at my house she was talking about me. At a certain point in my life I realized this behavior didn’t fit for me. It made me feel awful and I took an unpopular stand with my family, affecting forever my relationship with both my mom and one aunt.
Over time I have worked on loyalty to the absent (that is, not speaking badly about others when they were absent). I raised my awareness to situations rife with gossip, refused to partake in gossiping conversations, distanced myself from those who practice such disloyalty, finding it a forever journey to stay on track. I work to keep the intimate details of my relationships and my judgments to myself, preferring to go direct when I’m ready. I’ve swallowed a lot of blood biting my tongue. It takes a lifetime to build clarity, and lessons rise and fall through the years.
To continue my quest, I found myself recently in a retreat where the leader who hired me spoke badly about two people who were absent (one was her boss). I cringed and made a note, then set a date to debrief our meeting. In our face-to-face I gently confronted her about the unintended consequences of her gossiping with her team. She took it gracefully. We parted with a hug. And as we were leaving I opened my big mouth and said something inappropriate about a fellow colleague. Sigh. I felt awful and apologized.
I went to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in Enough Said and emerged a bit puzzled about the story and its affect on me. It’s pegged as an insightful comedy that humorously explores the mess that often comes with getting involved in romance. But I finally figured out it’s a movie about gossip. Julia is a massage therapist who simultaneously begins a romance and takes on a new client that turns out to be the ex-wife of her new love. The poisonous trash talk the ex-wife inserts into Julia’s relationship almost kills it as she grows to look at her new love through the eyes of the ex-wife. No wonder it was unsettling.
In my own divorced family there is ample opportunity to practice loyalty to the absent. There are relationships that are broken that must fix themselves, and I have chosen not to fuel their causes with gossip. There are misunderstandings and cruelties that erupt, and it's exhausting to keep up with everyone's version, so I don't.