Gossip, Friends, and friends

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“To put it in the language of Friends, community happens as that of God in you responds to that of God in me.” 

– Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer’s affirmation is easy to visualize. But what can we do to foster community? With the presence of the Spirit, one’s testimonies create community. Still, our communities are not perfect. One can encounter gossip. Perhaps in rare cases, gossip is a message from the Spirit. Most often it is self-led rather than Spirit-led. It separates people and weakens the relationships that are central to a thriving community.

The end result of gossip is the spreading of rumors – sometimes trivial, often unsubstantiated. But the “whys” of gossip are meaningful in their own right. Gossip is fueled by a variety of desires. One may want to fit in and feel included. One may enjoy collecting information about others. One may want to demean someone. One may have the misguided belief that two people become closer when they share private information about another. Quakers are not exempt from any of these actions. 

Our communities are weakened by the often-persistent residue of gossip. Gossip creates cells of people with exclusive knowledge. It creates separations and pushes people away. We begin to feel safe with certain people and move tentatively around others. Gossip results in a loss of the enthusiasm needed to provide service for our communities.

Gossip can corrupt nascent friendships. After Meeting for Worship, Friends turn to each other, shake hands and say hello. We can repeat this for months and never know more than the name and face of an individual. Participation in a Friends meeting does not predict that a mutually caring friendship will develop. Our cultivated friendships within Friendship are the foundation of a caring testimony. Strengthening these friendships is central to a caring Friends community.

Here are some queries to help one contemplate gossip, our relationships and our community:

SIMPLICITY: Do I strive for a simplicity in my relationships that makes gossip unwanted and unnecessary? Do I acknowledge the patience and sincerity needed to nurture relationships? Do I avoid the “quick fix” of gossip?

PEACE: Do I reach out peacefully to those who instill fear and insecurity in me? Am I an instrument of peace when I gossip?

INTEGRITY: Do I avoid sharing information about a person that I would not share if they were present? Do I avoid speaking about a person in ways that I would not want them to speak about me?

COMMUNITY: A community is only as strong as the individual relationships that create and maintain it. Do I acknowledge the disagreements and tensions that arise between others and myself? How does gossip affect the healing of my relationships? 

EQUALITY: How does gossip affect the equity needed to discover the unique gifts that a person can offer? How does gossip affect my perception of someone? How does my perception of someone affect my ability to experience the Spirit that is gifted to me through them?

STEWARDSHIP: Stewardship is much more than caring for the earth. It includes stewardship of our children and our resources. How does gossip affect my ability to be a steward of my self and my meeting? 

Avoidance of gossip can be a testimony for any Friend. Our challenge is to ensure that this testimony and all our testimonies permeate into our personal relationships. Dear Friend, let us add the avoidance of gossip to our personal testimonies and embrace the challenge of creating a community of friends among Friends. ~~~

Collin Boyd is a member of Santa Fe Friends Meeting (IMYM). Before retiring, his civic work included GED instruction for juvenile offenders and runaways. He has worshiped with Quakers in Canada, Mexico, Western Europe, Rwanda and Kenya.

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