Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.-Eleanor Roosevelt
I have a small mind... frequently. My mom quoted me a version of this when I was younger. For some reason, it stuck with me. I don't think I told her that at the time. But I did quietly file it away to ponder, and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a person who talked about ideas. Yup, ideas were my goal, the bigger the better. Like maybe free market economics or the nature of choices or being pro-life and still supporting the death penalty.
I have learned that not many people like to talk about ideas, for a variety of reasons. (There have been some great conversations that I've had that revolved around the nature of having too many choices and what you'd like to invent if you could invent anything, but they're the exception.) And I am not smart enough to carry a conversation about ideas on my own. Besides, I like to talk about events and people as much as the next gal, so its easy to let go of the lofty goal of "big idea" conversation. So often, conversational topics for me consist primarily of events and happenings and baby care products and vacations, etc. Eventually, though, it seems like conversation turns back to people and relationships. This seems natural, in my opinion. After all, for women at least, our relationships and the health or disease of them are what are most important to us in life.
Talking about people can be pleasant thing, a way of building community connections. My mom will often share both good tidings and sad stories about folks I grew up with, family members, and old friends. We'll talk about who just had a baby and who is in the hospital. Such talk is friendly and innocuous. We're rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. The things shared are common news, and those who are being shared about welcome their news being passed on.
But sometimes, woven through the middle of these kinds of harmless statements are some critical ones, and these sow seeds of slander, hurt, distrust, and anger. They're seeds, and as such, they are harder to detect. If they were bushes, wacking us in the face with their thorny branches, we'd be shocked and pull back. But since they're small, we sometimes barely notice them. We walk away from the conversation, and a few moments later, we have nagging thoughts.
"Hmm, should I really have shared that about Susie? I have this feeling maybe she wouldn't have liked it."
"I was too angry when I was talking about Beth. I know she's hurt me, but I really didn't intend to give Kate such a bad impression of her. What if Kate tells her what I said..."
There are times when we legitimately want to get godly counsel from our friends. We have a situation that we're struggling with involving another person. We want to share that to get help so that we won't sin in our relationship with them. I think we can do that without engaging in slander, but it involves much care and caution. And if we're angry, we can't do it until we can step back, take it to the Lord, and let Him heal the anger.
I was involved in a conversation the other day that probably descended into gossip. It started out innocently enough, with one person trying to get useful information about a group she was thinking of joining. It ended with me feeling very uncomfortable with the way some members of the group were portrayed. What to do? I felt uncomfortable, so I left the room to get Seth. After the person who had been sharing about the group left, I told my friend that I'd been uncomfortable, and I worried that we'd all engaged in gossip. I'd asked questions and probably encouraged the talk in a negative direction, so I certainly wasn't blameless. We talked about it, and we talked about how hard it is to check ourselves and tame our tongues.
Only now, I'm thinking about this, and I'm thinking, "Do I now have to go to the person that said things that made us uncomfortable, and do I have to tell her that I told my friend that I was uncomfortable with what she said?" Ooops! I probably do, or I am guilty of potentially slandering her, without even meaning to. Man, this is sticky and complicated!
This morning in MOPs, our speaker talked about taming the tongue. It was a timely lesson for me. I feel like I will fight a lifelong battle against this. I just know that I want to be a woman of integrity whose friends know that she will not be saying bad things about them behind their backs. My rule of thumb has been not to say anything about you behind your back that I wouldn't say to your face. Now, I'll say a lot to you to your face. =) But I can use that as an excuse to tell someone something about a friend that I have no business sharing, just because I have told them the same thing to their face. Am I being kind? Am I being loving? Am I just talking to talk, or do I really need godly advice for a relationship in crisis? I know the answer, if I'm willing to just be honest with myself.
So if you're my friend, and you see me starting to talk about someone just to talk, gently correct me. I don't want to be planting a thornbush garden with my tongue. =)