Responsibility and Gossip

I’m reading The Road Less Traveled again. It’s amazing. It’s also immediately practical and is about to really simplify some thing for me.

Psychosis, according to Dr. Peck, is refusing to accept responsibility for what is, really, your responsibility. (For example, it’s something you have control over, can change, or something you caused.) Neurosis is the opposite: assuming responsibility for something is not yours to control or change, or that you didn’t cause.

I try to be friends with most everyone. I don’t need  to explain why or justify myself; I simply constitute myself as someone who makes a priority out of getting along with people. When the Desiderata said “as far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons,” I took it seriously. (I will consider it more critically in a future blog post.) This means people tend to trust me with problems, like the things that bother them about other people. Other people who might also be my friends. Other friends who also tell me what they don’t like about this friend.

This is not a comfortable position to be in. It’s familiar, and familiarity is comfortable. It’s easy, because all I have to do is nod my head and not say anything. It’s more comfortable, I imagine, than asking my friends not to talk about my other friends to me behind their backs. I don’t know if it is or not; I’ve never tried.

Landmark defines gossip as voicing a complaint to someone who can’t do anything about it. Gossip has no integrity. And everybody does it anyway. That’s part of why the world doesn’t work.

So when one friend asks me to tell him what I was told about him by another friend, that’s uncomfortable. (To be more precise, it brings to the fore the discomfort present in a gossipy situation–the discomfort I’ve grown used to.) To divulge what I heard lacks integrity and risks compromising that relationship. Withholding what I heard risks compromising this relationship.

Actually, what lacked integrity was listening to the gossip in the first place. Listening risked compromising both relationships. However, refusing to listen would “rock the boat,” so to speak. Gossip is part of our culture; refusing to participate is like saying you don’t care about football, or that there are 8 days in a week.

(I’ve given gossip, and how to deal with it, a lot of thought over the last few years. I think a legitimate outlet needs to exist for it: a gossip-sink, that exists to turn gossip into solutions. At least for right now, though, I am not that.)

So, in the interest of being responsible for myself–owning what’s mine–and not taking over something that isn’t mine, I’m striking a compromise. I will keep listening, but I will not reinforce gossip by agreeing with it, and I won’t further gossip by repeating it.

As for my own complaints about people, well… I don’t know how to deal with that yet. Maybe I should spend some time developing this “gossip-sink”.

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