Thursday, June 02, 2011

Gossiping? Who Me?

My friend Helen, who I’ve known for 21 years, lives across the street.  She’s part of my women’s accountability group, her son James is one of Ren’s very best friends, and we swap kid care once a week.

Whenever possible, we also like to stand around in each others’ kitchens and chat, often about things we don’t really want our little pitchers (or my increasingly big pitchers) with big ears to hear—so we send them away, which they all hate. 

One day, her daughter Abigail said, “I think you guys are gossiping, and gossiping is bad.”

Hmmm.  That stopped us short. 

“I don’t think we’re gossiping,” I said.

“But you’re talking about people.”

Hmmm.  Got us again.

“You know Abigail?  I think we’re processing, not gossiping.” I said.

“What’s the difference?”

“When people gossip, they talk about other peoples’ troubles, but their motivation is usually to feel better about themselves, or to judge the other person, or to feel powerful about sharing a secret.” 

She nodded.

“When we process, our motivation is often to figure out how God sees the situation, or how to help the person, or how to make relationships better.  Get it?”

She shook her head.  “It still sounds like gossip to me.”

Out of the mouth of babes.

Abigail’s right.  When Helen and I talk, it can sound like gossip, and if we’re mean spirited, we probably do gossip.  But I’m still going to defend that most of our sharing isn’t gossip, but processing.  In fact, I sincerely hope most of my friends are “processing” about me, and throwing up some prayers along the way.

I went to the dictionary to see whether I’m right about the words.  My Mac dictionary says gossip is:

casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true

Oops, forgot to include the truthfulness part of the definition for Abigail.

Turns out “processing”—at least the way I use the word—doesn’t exist.  Instead, says :

·      to treat or prepare by some particular process, as in manufacturing.
·      to handle (papers, records, etc.) by systematically organizing them, recording or making notations on them, following up with appropriate action, or the like: to process mail.
·      to require (someone) to answer questionnaires, perform various tasks, and sometimes to undergo physical and aptitude classification examinations before the beginning or termination of a period of service: The army processes all personnel entering or leaving the service.

So if “process” is the wrong word, what is it that I do with my friends, family and husband that I so vigorously defend?  I looked on my Mac thesaurus for synonyms of “process” and got the words

deal with, attend to, see to, sort out, handle, take care of, action.

We’re getting on the right track. . .

When I clicked on synonyms for “handle” I got:

3 she handled the problems well: deal with, manage, tackle, take care of, take charge of, attend to, see to, sort out, apply oneself to, take in hand; respond to, field.

Aahh. . .  I like those words!  That's what I do with my friends!  Our goal as we confess and confide is to handle our problems well—to tackle, take care of, attend to, sort out, respond to—basically to deal with what’s going on in our lives and the lives of those we love. 

In other words, we process. 

1 comment:

athanasius said...

I remember having a similar discussion in college about how prayer meetings were conducted. The question became "what is the line between praying for people and spiritualizing gossip?" For myself, I think about whether I could say the same thing if the person were in the room.