Betty Duffy

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Praise of Slo-Friends (rerun Aug.08)

Movement towards the truth implies temperance. If truth purifies man from egotism and from the illusion of absolute autonomy, it makes him obedient and gives him the courage to be humble, it thereby also teaches him to see through producibility as a parody of freedom, and to unmask undisciplined chatter as a parody of dialogue. Pope Benedict XVI

As this self-titled blog has developed into sort of a rant against popular self-absorption, you may find it hypocritical of me that I picked up a Self magazine at the gym the other day. Sitting on the stationary bike, I flipped to an article on gossip, and how to do it correctly. How to do it correctly? In otherwords, “How to Hurt People so that No One Gets Hurt?” It didn't make sense. But as “Self” magazine is all about what’s good for the self, it had to be noted that gossiping makes people feel closer to one another, and since being close to other people is good, gossiping must be good. But one should follow “Self’s” particular guidelines to keep anyone from suffering from your criticism of their life for your own benefit.

Self Disclosure: I have gossiped an unconscionable number of times in the course of my life. Starting somewhere around fifth grade, my conversations with friends began with not “What should we talk about?” but “Who should we talk about?” Who was on our nerves? Who should we not like on Monday? By high school, it was who was doing whom? And in college, who "gets it" and who is an automaton? Lord knows what gave me and chosen friend the authority to make such a judgment. But judge we did because all gossip is, just that, a weighing of another individual’s life against one’s own, paired with a preconceived decision that one’s own life is superior. People love to bask in feelings superiority with one another. I love to feel superior with a chosen friend. I love to be the one to say that the emperor has no clothes, which is why gossip is still on my list nearly every time I enter the confessional.

But live and learn. A peculiar thing about adulthood is that everyone knows the emperor has no clothes. Some people choose not to mention it however, in order to protect something that is greater than the ability of the eye to see. One day we realize that people cannot always control their eccentricities. And we will ignore the things someone does, a family member’s idiosyncratic behavior, a member of a prayer group’s need to share too much, because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is more important for the family or the group to survive than it is to acknowledge that someone’s behavior is odd or annoying.

As tempting as it is to get together with a girlfriend and dish about these things, in order to forge friendships that are not annoying or troublesome, we will forego friendly closeness in favor of greater goods. And this has been a necessary sadness for me. I have a history of hot and heavy relationships. I remember many a college afternoon spent lollygagging with girlfriends discussing all the irritating people in our sorority. There was a physical closeness that came with this dishing—sort of like monkeys lying around eating the fleas off each other’s backs--and I'd be lying if I said these relationships didn't meet a need for physical and emotional intimacy that as an unmarried person I craved very much. Friendships were forged in a matter of weeks in college, where we had not only the idle time for such chatter but incredible nerve as well. It was important to be close with people and closeness required the revelation of our own secrets, and the secrets of others.

In adulthood, I have been blessed with friends, old and new, who have learned the value of discretion and who care enough about my soul to leave off a conversation that does neither of us any good. But this has also meant that the development of new friendships has moved very slowly at times. Often, I have felt that little rise of adrenaline when a friend has approached the edge of revelation about some personal detail in her life or the lives of others, and then has begged off with, “I really shouldn’t go there.” The initial disappointment when I realize that this friendship will have to forego that particular revelation and closeness is at times akin to having temperance in a sexual relationship. I really want to push you further. But for the good of your soul, we will forgo that closeness, and instead, talk about the weather. Bummer.

But hey, there will be no regrets between us, no murky feelings after a conversation or fears that I have betrayed the people I love most. Our friendship will have to be sustained on something besides the faults of others, which are, after all, finite. Neither one of us will have to make haste to a confessional, and the naked emperor will maintain just a little bit of dignity. That’s a good thing.


Peter and Nancy said...

I have often wished that gossip was on the "list" of seemingly less-pardonable sins (such as homosexuality) for us Christians. But we usually choose things that we personally don't struggle with to go on the "REALLY bad sins" list. Thanks for the reminder.

wifemotherexpletive said...

my slightly different boat is always pleasingly surprised by a friend who chooses not to gossip. its a lull in the storm, and it is well appreciated. as is the reminder.

Kris Livovich said...

G.K. Chesterton says that talking about the weather is a way of invoking God. (I'm totally paraphrasing) So talking about the weather is good

Anne said...

Biting the tongue is far less painful than inflicting pain on others but much more difficult. I'm with you on the frequent confessions of finger pointing at the naked emperor. Nice thought provoking post.

TXMom2B said...

This is such a helpful post for me. I, too, have been blessed as an adult with friends who do not gossip. I never before made the connection to that with the fact that these friendships always felt like they were missing something, something I got from my college friends with, you said it, gossip. Now that I see the reason, I appreciate those friendships even more, and need to stop expecting that extra closeness from those friendships that would come at quite a high cost.

Maureen said...

Wow. That was very insightful and explanatory of huge tracts of life.

Thank you, Duffy-sensei. :)

TS said...

Great post. There was a physical closeness that came with this dishing... reminds me of Rene Girard's theology, and how we bond over a scapegoat and so Christ came to be the scapegoat to teach us what we are doing when we treat another as scapegoat.

Heard recently a priest say that "rash judgement" is the most-committed sin that is the most infrequently confessed.

BettyDuffy said...

TS, read Girard in college but would never have made the connection between gossip and the sacrificial victim--interesting.