On my way to work this morning, I listened to “Morning Air,” a show on the Catholic station Relevant Radio. Msgr. Stuart Swetland was talking about the sin of gossip.
I am not a natural gossip. I don’t have a large group of friends or family. I don’t socialize much at work. I am generally friendly to those around me, but keep my confidants to a small circle of friends whom I trust and love.
Not that I am innocent of gossiping. I have a bad habit of carrying around perceived injustices against me and others. When I feel such injustice, I can be unkind and too ready to talk about friends, bosses, or coworkers. I recognize this as a personal fault and am consciously working on not allowing myself to get sucked down that dark hole, although I do slip sometimes. Since I am not perfect, I listened intently to what the monsignor had to say.
Swetland admonished listeners to ask this before saying something that might be gossip: “Is it true? Is it timely? Is it necessary?” This is a take on a saying attributed to Socrates: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” I began thinking about whether I had met those criteria at those times I might have been guilty of gossip.
Swetland moved to his next point: gossip wastes time. How would your life change if the time you spent on gossip were spent instead on prayer, improving the lives of others, or furthering the Kingdom of God? But, I thought to myself, “I don’t spend hours at work or on the phone gossiping.”
Then he really brought it home to me. He connected it to Facebook. How much time do you spend on Facebook and, once there, how often do you share posts that point out the weakness, sinfulness, or foolishness of another without even knowing whether it is true? I felt an almost physical punch to the gut. GUILTY!
Facebook, the Conduit of Gossip
Even as I was writing this, a Facebook friend commented on a video I had shared this morning, showing a teen making a complete idiot of himself. I will not describe it lest I perpetuate what I am trying to stop. Her comment made my phone ding, reminding me of the video. I almost got up to show the video to a friend of mine at work. Everyone who saw it would laugh.
Then I thought about this poor young teen, now made a fool across the Internet and maybe across the world. Was it true? Yes. Was it necessary to show the video to anyone? No, not at all. Was it timely or kind? Not even slightly.
Comments I’ve made on other peoples’ posts are just as sinful. I try to always be polite, but I waste time challenging people about ideas knowing it is almost always hopeless. Few people are willing to engage in real discussion today on both sides of the aisle. Most people are looking for self-affirmation of their views or are virtue-signaling. If someone challenges them, many choose to make angry or even malicious statements in response, a fact I could predict before I started. Therefore, I am leading another toward an occasion of sin. It is not defensible.
I Do Have Reasons to Seek Social Comfort
There is some excuse for me and my time on Facebook (or so I tried to convince myself). I live in an area of the country and work in a field that is anti-white, anti-male, anti-heterosexual, anti-cisgender, anti-Christian, anti-conservative, anti-American, anti-police, anti-capitalism—just so many antis. I am definitely an outcast. Colleagues and friends sit around talking about how much they love Hillary, Obama, socialism, feminist liberation theology, Black Lives Matter, white guilt, pro-homosexual curriculum, and how much they hate Bible clinging, gun toting conservatives, Christians (who are all somehow white nationalists and “human-centric”), Republicans, white America, Western culture, and so on.
With a Mona Lisa smile on my face, I sit, silent. There is almost no one with whom I can just open up and chat without having to watch what I say. Very cautiously, I might eventually admit to a trusted friend or colleague that I am a conservative and a practicing Catholic. Quite a few times, that admission has cost me a friendship. Occasionally, I find those who are interested in real discussion with those of differing visions. But this is fairly rare.
Then I found conservative friends on Facebook who thought like me and believed what I believe (except for the Catholic part, as most of them are evangelicals), and who were just so tired of watching America being vilified and destroyed piece by piece. Suddenly, I was in. I could joke about “snowflakes” and express outrage at the latest stupidity of those foolish liberals. It was so freeing.
We shared memes of Crazy Uncle Joe fondling yet another woman, Obama bowing to yet another Saudi prince, PC Nazis and pajama boys throwing temper tantrums over “offensive food,” or yet another hypocritical Democratic congressman caught in corruption. It was fun, and I no longer had to be silent.
However, Swetland pulled the rug out from under that, too. You should not use gossip to fit in, he admonished. That was exactly what I had done. Did I fact-check all of those memes to make sure they were true? Some of them, but not all. I delighted in them too much.
Were they timely? Some of the same articles and memes make the rounds each year as if they had just happened yesterday, so not timely. Were they necessary? Even if the idea the meme presents was based on fact, it was always presented in a way to degrade a group or human being; therefore, no, they were not necessary.
Dialogue, Yes, But Constructively
People should be civilly challenged on ideas they present, especially if the ideas are destructive to individuals, society, or the nation. Nonetheless, they should not be made to look like fools. Time would have been better spent writing to congressmen, publishing an article, organizing charities, or praying for those who need prayer. Instead, I chose to stand with my “gang” and point fingers while laughing at “those idiots on the Left.”
Kelly, a young liberal with whom I was trying to have calm and reasoned conversation, went on my Facebook page to look at my posts. She called me a hypocrite for saying that I wanted civil discourse when I posted things that made fun of others. I balked. “That was between me and like-minded people,” I said, “It wasn’t meant for you. You guys do that to us all of the time.” But she was right. Swetland made me see that today.
How can I engage someone in a civil conversation in one post while making fun of her in another? It is not possible, and there is nothing remotely resembling an imitation of Christ taking place when I do that. I hang my head in shame and thank God for getting that message into my thick head through Swetland and Kelly.
Today, I Pledge to Do Better
Therefore, I pledge today that I will not post, share, or “love” any mean-spirited image or statement that degrades another. I pledge that I will not provoke others into attacking while acting as though I am enlightening or engaging them. I pledge today to stop following those folks who continue to do the same (although I will still love them and let them know why). I pledge to work on myself, to focus on building people up while still giving criticism to people when they need it, but only in civil, loving, and respectful ways.
Following this pledge this morning, I sped through my Facebook news feed. There were so few posts to read or click on once I simply ignored the mean-spirited ones and resisted the temptation to make provocative comments on the “unenlightened” posts. Time saved already, so I prayed before I entered work, having gotten there a few minutes early. Cleaning up my past posts and explaining to Facebook friends why I am “unfriending” will take a bit longer.
The monsignor finished with this: “Small people talk about other people; average people talk about things; great people talk about ideas.” I have been very small. Forgive me Lord. Forgive me for those moments when I have tried to make people small instead of trying to lift them up.
I will finish with this from St. Paul: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). I will take St. Paul’s advice and use his guidance not only to think about such things, but also to post such things.