What Constitutes Gossip?

whisperA while ago I had a conversation with a parishioner about gossip. I was slightly surprised at the aspects I heard proposed.

– If it’s true, it’s not gossip.

– If I would say it to a person’s face, it’s not gossip.

Fair? Would you be satisfied?

I recently overheard a small group of people talk about another of their cadre. I’d say for the most part, their discussion was a sharing of truths. I’m not sure how helpful or intimidating it would be for the absent person to be hearing three people preach on a set of qualities lacking. All at once.

I also had to check my own memory and participation in discussions like this. I know I have. I remember a few of them clearly enough. When a conversation turns to an absent friend or acquaintance,  I wondered about what to do when it skirts to gossip.

I have a friend in town who has no toleration for gossip. She tells me she just leaves the conversation, and these days, people just know not to badmouth others in her presence. But I wonder if this is enough. The gossip goes on, behind the back of two persons instead of one.

I have an experiment I think I’m going to try when I’m hanging around the student lounge or the Sunday coffee crowd, and the conversation turns to people not present. For every little criticism, I wonder how the discussion would flow if I inserted a good point about the subject? “But you know, N has a very generous heart … don’t forget, N is a fine musician … you have to admit, N is very skilled at …”

No matter how one defines gossip, maybe the cure must involve some gentle intervention. Something to crank back the delicious temptation to improve someone’s life while pumping up our own good feeling as wise fixers.

Any other prescriptions out there? Or better definitions for gossip?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to What Constitutes Gossip?

  1. Liam says:

    Detraction involves “true” gossip, and calumny “false” gossip. A lot of people are surprised that detraction is a sin. Here’s a primer:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04757a.htm

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