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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Gossip Girl

Sister St. Aloysius is getting a removable cast
any minute. What happened to the good old days when you could knock someone out with your cast and everyone signed it?

She told me that all she would want written on her cast is an arrow pointing to her left arm and the words, "I'm with stupid."

Of course, if she wasn't careful with that, a lot of the time the arrow would be pointing to me. Which brings me to today's question from a reader:

Dear Sister, I've been reading your blog for some time now and I really, really love it! I have few questions about gossip:

1) How does one differentiate between gossip and 'sharing concern'?

2) If someone starts gossiping to me about another person and I just listen, am I gossiping too?

3) If some is gossiping to me about another person, should I walk away? Should I call the person on his/her gossip? Should I defend the gossipee?

I've always learned that people who gossip about others will surely at one point or another gossip about me. How can I stay away from gossipers? How can I ensure not to gossip myself? Any tips or pointers would surely be appreciated. Thanks much

You're welcome.

Oh wait. I have to answer.

How does one differentiate between gossip and sharing concern?

You don't get to share concern by sharing private details about other people. Let's take a moment to define gossip. We'll use Webster's Dictionary because they still have nuns in there:
1 : a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others
2 a
: rumor or report of an intimate nature b: a chatty talk c: the subject matter of gossip.

If I'm standing around with you and tell you about my friend who just found a wonderful new apartment after a long hunt and I want to share that good news with you, no problem.

Me: Margaret just found a wonderful new apartment! She is so happy.

You: Isn't that wonderful. I know she has been so worried about finding a new place.

We're both good to go here. It only turns south if I start revealing personal information about Margaret.

Me: Yes, well, she will be paying quite a bit more. She is such a shopaholic. I hope she doesn't end up living in her car.


Here's a rule of thumb: if you are talking about someone else and you suddenly realized they've been standing right behind you the whole time you've been talking and you find yourself combing your brain to remember exactly what you just said and whether or not you're going to have to sputter and backpeddle, you've been gossiping. (Unless all you've been talking about is the surprise party that's being planned. Then you're not a gossip, you're a blockhead.)

Why is it so bad? Because people have a right to justice and fairness, which is denied to them when people are talking about them behind their backs, even if you think it is for their own good. That's why the nuns always used to tell you to "mind your own garden".

We all have enough weeds to keep us busy.

If someone starts gossiping to me about another person and I just listen, am I gossiping too?

Great real.


If you weren't standing there listening there would be no gossip. Do people stand around talking to the walls about other people? No, they do not.

If some is gossiping to me about another person, should I walk away? Should I call the person on his/her gossip? Should I defend the gossipee?

This is a little more tricky. Unless there has been some sort of conversation about how you don't appreciate being involved in gossiping, just walking away is a bit rude. But then, so is gossiping, so it will do in a pinch.

I'm not much one for the holier than thou approach of calling a person on their gossiping, at least not in so many words, and defending the gossippee can result in more unearthing of the dark dirt.

Me: What a shopaholic that girl is! It's a wonder anyone would rent a place to her!

You: Well, she had a poor childhood and she told me once that she was denied so much as a child that she simple wasn't going to live her life pinching every penny.

Me: There is a difference between pinching pennies and reckless abandon. She wouldn't know a budget if it bit her in the face!

You're defense has made me defensive and caused me to spew even more unpleasant judgment.

I go for this approach:

Me: What a squanderer! What a wastrel!
You: It's really none of our business what she does with her money.
Me: (sputter) Well, I hope she doesn't end up at the Salvation Army trailer park.
You: I'm sure she'll be fine. How nice she found a great place.

Now you can walk away. Unless we're in the car. Then you're going to have to wait until I drop you off.

I've always learned that people who gossip about others will surely at one point or another gossip about me.

Yes, they will. They especially will at the point you tell them to stop gossiping.
You: (walking away) It's none of our business. If we keep talking about this we're just gossiping.

Me: Did you hear what Janine said to me? She called me a gossipy old biddy!

How can I stay away from gossipers?
You can't, unless you live in a cave. Trust me, you wouldn' t even be safe in a convent. Just don't cave yourself.

How can I ensure not to gossip myself?
Be vigilant. Be less judgmental in the first place. Don't busy yourself with the affairs of others. Mind your own garden.


Katherine said...

Something funny (or frightening) about the word gossip is that it is a corrupted form of the word godparent. The newer meaning arose from the chatter that some people (even me on occasion) carry on after arrivng at church and before the mass starts. Thus one's godparent was one's gossip.
And it was all downhill from there.

Anonymous said...

OK, why is there toilet paper in the chair?
I am glad about Sr. Aloysius.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of what people do in church...I was at Mass on Good Friday. It was very crowded, and a lot of us were jammed into folding chairs in the back. A couple seats away from me a young woman--maybe 19 or 20--was texting on her cell phone. I was floored. If she had been a little younger, I'd have reached across and hissed at her to please stop, but since she seemed to at least look like an adult, I felt she ought to know she was in the wrong. I thought maybe there was some emergency at home, but she kept it up for nearly the entire Mass. I shot her some annoyed looks...I tried to focus on my own prayers instead of her flying fingers (very distracting)...and I left feeling very frustrated at myself (and everyone else around her) for not doing anything. What advice would you have for those of us trying to deal with adults behaving badly in church?

Laura said...

The "rule of thumb" is perfect.
Gossip is a tough one in the work place.

Anonymous said...

I think this leads to another question. What do we do when the gossip is about us. How does one as a Christian act upon learning that someone is out there spreading rumors about her?

Claudia said...

My rule of thumb is don't say anything you would not want repeated in the local newspaper with your name as writer.

You never know what peoples situations are, to quote all of our mothers: "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all." I bet you all have heard that line before.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

OP here. Thank you, thank you for such a well thought-out and sincere post. It has helped me a lot and I will, indeed, be vigilant and 'mind my own garden', as I do have plenty of work to do.

I'm sure that we, as a society, would talk more about gossip (and the pain that it causes) if we were not all so guilty of it.

Guilt has a funny way of making us all ignore the elephant in the room.

You are wonderful for just coming out and saying these great, comforting and wise things.

Junosmom said...

Thank you for some interesting insights.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,
I am hoping you could help give me some insight on my situation. I was married in the church and I did the absolute wrong thing and got a divorce and remarried without waiting for my annullment.
It finally weighted on my conscience to where I couldn't take it anymore. I want to make things right, but I'm not sure if that's possible for now. My husband and I are currently seperated, and it's been very difficult on us and the children as we love each other very much.
He is trying to become Catholic, and the priest has told him that he can't be confirmed because we intend to get back together one day.
Am I still in a state of sin now that I'm not living with him? Does the fact that I long to be with him make me just as bad?
Is all the pain my family undergoing worth anything to God?

Thank you.

Shannon said...


I made you a cake. Come see!

Love you lots,

Tami said...

Thanks for this great reminder. I think some people are blantant gossipers, but most of us fall into that category you mentioned where we cross the line from concern to gossip.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of how my best friends and I used to carry on in grade school. There were three of us, which is never good. Whenever two of us got together, we talked endlessly about the third. And inevitably, one would say, "Well, yesterday she said you looked weird in that shirt," whereupon the other would say, "GASP! She TALKED about me BEHIND MY BACK?"

I like the rule of thumb. I have a hard time drawing the line at work, though. There's a point at which, "Communicate to the boss that Miss ABC's (lack of) technique in this area has resulted in my lateness," really quickly turns into, "...and express frustration over it and talk about how this is the fifth time and shouldn't she know better by now?"

Anonymous said...


I was under the impression that Mass is never celebrated on Good Friday. SMM?

robkroese said...

You can't avoid gossipers, but I find that they leave you alone if you don't join in. If they don't get the hint, saying something like "I think [person you've been gossiping about] is a very nice person" helps.

Jen said...

I lived in a convent for a time and the sisters would always link gossip with "grumbling". Their rule of thumb was, if you're not discussing a problem with the point of view of doing something constructive (and charitable) about said problem, then you're grumbling and knock it off.

Sometimes I've found that I do need to discuss my concern for a friend with another friend, if we're worried that they're getting involved in something bad for them. I try to make sure we keep it to, "Are we seeing the problem correctly, would it be appropriate to talk to her about it, and if so, how?" and not get off onto complaining or backbiting. But even there, it can be tough to keep it in line.

Anonymous said...

Sister, I have a question for you and don't see an email link, so I hope it's ok to put it here. My husband and I have been debating how to best keep holy the Lord's Day. Tomorrow is Sunday, for example, and I would like to go putter in the yard and work on my flower beds and vegetable garden. I enjoy yard work, it's something I struggle to find time to work on during the week, and I don't think it's a lovely way to spend a Sunday. My husband, who does not like yardwork at all, thinks it would be a sin to do yard work on Sunday. I have told him if it is truly "work" to him, then maybe it is sinful for him to do yardwork. But maybe I'm rationalizing what I want to do tomorrow. :) If working in the garden is a bad way to spend Sunday, I will find something else to do, but honestly, I feel like it's a better way to spend the day than the way my husband will spend it, in front of the tv or computer.

We do, of course, go to mass and religion classes on Sunday mornings as well.

What is your opinion Sister?

Sister Mary Martha said...

What wonderful cake! Thank you!

And a great opportunity for Lenten suffering to have none!

I tried to leave a message on your blog, but it didn't work.