Kadrmas: Silence of the tongues
The workplace by itself can be a very trying place. From deadlines to dealing with outside parties and the relentlessness of day-to-day tasks, the work day can take its toll on just about anyone.
Unfortunately, it is not a well-kept secret that gossip floats around the workplace like incoming and outgoing emails. When somebody makes a mistake -- whether we think it's an honest one or not -- it's so easy to get as many people as we can on the bandwagon and throw them under the bus. Rather than asking the needed question or admitting we may not know all the facts as to why someone did what they did, it is easy to jump the gun and assume we know everything and let our mouths proclaim it.
The same can be said for gossip not on an individual's work habits, but personal life. For things we know -- or think we know -- about someone's personal interests, relationships, hobbies, etc.
Let me back up and quickly say there is nothing intrinsically evil about talking about a person. Of course, that depends on the context and the motives the person has who is doing the talking.
When a person's aim is to build up a person, that person is gaining merit by the positive motives they have in their own heart and, at the same time, being respectful of another person and their life all in the higher aim of having a positive conversation.
We have all seen the other side of the coin when someone's aim is to tear down and mock someone's work habits or personal life. We have all heard it sarcastically said, "I don't know why they do that." It's all done in an effort to isolate someone and pit others against them.
What should be a person's approach to gossip? Well, I think we need to start back at the beginning -- and I'm talking way back -- when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with those two stone tablets.
I think most people have forgotten, and the current culture isn't doing any favors in reminding us, that there is a commandment against such slander.
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" sounds like its addressing gossip, not? Bearing a false witness relates to openly expressing opinions without having all the facts, thinking we know everything about someone's personal life or work habits, talking about someone just for the sake of it with no regard of what we're saying and how it might throw dirt on their name.
I wanted to see what the Catechism of the Catholic church has to say about this commandment and read some of the behaviors that fall under the Eighth Commandment. They are: rash judgment, detraction -- a degrading or damaging comment on a person's reputation or character -- and making fun of others. This excludes joking around, this is purely making fun of someone for the intent of running them into the ground.
The Bible reinforces this commandment by "commanding." No it is not asking nicely, suggesting it would be a good idea that you should do this. Instead it "commands" that we give every person the benefit of the doubt, regardless of what we think we know about them, whether it is on a personal level or in the workplace.
I don't think a person can come this far without looking at the obvious. One day, each of us will have our moment in the spiritual hot seat, with our lives laid in front of us and we will have to own up to every action and everything we uttered. We can choose to live by grace and merit by speaking well of others and choosing to build them up, or live with vice in our lives and look to mock and tear down, to wait for a situation to arise that we can sink our teeth into and hurt someone's good name.
Let me close this column by re-telling a story I heard awhile back about gossip.
An individual came to a priest seeking confession. They told the priest they were guilty of gossiping about others. The priest told them, "For you penance, I want you to bring me a chicken."
Looking perplexed at the priest, almost as if they wondered if the good priest was playing a joke on them, they agreed and brought him a chicken. Then the priest said again, "Now, for your penance, I want you to walk down the city street and pluck the chicken's feathers as you go."
Again, wondering what the motive was behind such a penance, the person seeking absolution agreed and did what the priest asked of them. They returned to the priest and he told them a third time, "Now, for your penance, I want you to go back and collect all the feathers."
The person, completely beside themselves, asked the priest how he could possibly expect them to collect all the feathers when they had been scattered across the streets and the wind had assuredly blown them into every corner of the city.
Then the priest told the person, "Now you see how it is with gossip. Once you choose to let it out, it is impossible to take it all back."
Kadrmas is the production supervisor and religion columnist for The Dickinson Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.