Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Why do we talk about other people?
I don't mean talk like, "Do you know Sarah? She's got brown hair and she's a Biology major."
I mean talk like, "Do you know Sarah? She's really annoying. In the class I have with her, she always acts so pushy."
I mean talk like, "Do you know James? He's really not that attractive. But Susie though. She thinks he's all that and a bag of chips."
I have to put my hands up now and admit that I have said those very words (disclaimer, I don't know you, Sarah). I have said them flippantly. But why? How do they come rolling off my tongue so effortlessly when they are poisonous and ought to stop violently in my throat?
They may seem harmless, those above comments. But I know--you know--that they're not harmless. I've been around campus. I've heard stories about almost everyone. I'm sure there are stories about me. And I'm not saying this because I want people to stop doing this to me. I'm saying this because I want to stop talking about other people.
When I hear a story about someone, it colors in a bit of their image in my mind without allowing them to tell me what that bit really looks like in their story. Does that make sense? Stated differently, when you tell me something about someone behind their back, you give me a piece of them--whether real or unreal, true or untrue--without their permission. Sometimes I may ask for a piece of this person, but that doesn't make it right for you to give it away on their behalf.
And in our culture of instant communication, Facebook stalking, and stalker-net...it's so easy to refer to other people that talking about them basically feels guilt free.
But then you hear the stories about yourself.
And it really does change your perspective.
What if we stopped? What if I refused to say anything about anyone else that I didn't know they were fine with me sharing? What if I kept my thoughts about others nonintrusive and stopped trying to find out their story by other means? What if stalking turned to conversation? What if gossip turned to pure talk? What if tearing others down turned to building others up?
What if we actually lived out the verse in Ephesians 4:29 that has been so oft-quoted that we forget there's a reason for its rabid popularity--it's essential for true community.
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
Lord, let no words I say corrupt anyone's view of another. Let me build up rather than dismantle other's reputations. Let my words be gifts of grace.