Not to gossip, I insist with the disclaimer, I just think it’s interesting.
Of course. Because as long as it has psychological value, as long as it’s a starter of possible intellectual conversation and banter, and as long as I hold no real ill will or hatred towards the person I’m sharing bad things about— it’s fine. Right?
But doubt lurks in the back of my head— no, dread. A sick feeling. That thought. You know, but what if people talk about me like this?
And surely they do— about me and all my loved ones— our faults or insecurities or quirks or oddities have been picked apart as fascinating data on human weirdness. And that hurts. It doesn’t matter that they may not hate me. It doesn’t matter that it’s just because it’s interesting. Because I know the truth. While there may not be much ill will, there’s not total good will.
The reality is when you actually really care about somebody their faults are not just interesting. They are saddening, upsetting, concerning, frustrating. You may talk about them but not in a detached way. You talk about them only when necessary and it pains you to do so. It pains you to bring up the bad because you know there is so much good, or was so much good, or perhaps you don’t even see much good anymore but you know why it’s gone. You know what terrible tragedies stole it and you felt those tragedies and you still feel them. You see and know the whole person and you will defend that whole person. When we love people deeply we treat their faults more like mental disorders or illnesses– more like stumbling blocks in the way of them expressing the good inside– we always assume the best, always assume they don’t know better or can’t help it— always assume there is suffering behind the failing. And all our discussions about these people are either to seek true comfort in the frustration and sadness or to seek practical advice and counsel in how to manage the problem.
But the last thing we do about the faults of our loved ones is flippantly banter about them. Because we know, when it applies to those we love, that flippantly bantering about social insecurity or obesity or narcissism or daddy problems or trust issues or promiscuity or whatever other things consume our mouths when we gossip, hurts those people. It is a slight to their humanity— be they our brothers and sisters, the person down the street, or the celebrity on the TV. Flippant banter and gossip about human failure is a slight to humanity.
Indeed, we might even call it a sort of blasphemy. After all, we don’t laugh about and lightly discuss people’s faults on their deathbeds. We (hopefully) do not gossip when we know there is graveness to a person’s life. In those moments, we see the whole person and we respect him and we want the best for him. But why don’t we see that life itself, human emotion and struggle and pain and fault— is always very grave? We know it when it applies to us and to the ones we love. We know that everybody is human and that everybody has a little aching soul inside, and that that aching soul deserves respect no matter what stupid things it may make a person do.
I love psychology. I love figuring out why we are we way we are, including our faults. But I really ought not concern myself with other peoples’ faults unless I’m willing to give those people the time and effort their dignity deserves. If I’m going to talk about the bad things about somebody else I better be ready to seek resolution or to help them. It better not be just because it’s “interesting.” Such blasphemy may seem innocent at first— merely a failure to love, a missed opportunity. But it is the failures to love, the habits of overlooking humanity’s wholeness, that lead us to hate.