This is a brief excerpt from my new book, Speak Life, which releases in September. This part of the book tackles the topic of gossip.
Engaging in gossip is not altogether different from my experience of eating too much fried catfish every single time I’m back in Louisiana. If you know anything about catfish, then you know they are disgusting creatures. They’re bottom-feeders that consider algae, insects, and leeches “fine dining.” But if you catch one of those suckers, roll the thing in cornmeal, fry it up in near-rancid oil—without exaggerating, I just can’t get enough.
Comfort food like no other, I tell you. It tastes so good and goes down so easily—but a few hours later, your innards begin to revolt. You search desperately for some way to get the effects out of your system—“Maybe a shower will help. Or a workout?” you think. “Yeah, I’ll sweat it out.”—but you should realize your search is in vain. The toxicity is in your system now, and you’re just going to have to let it run its course.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why, when we channel surf past TMZ, do we have to flip back just for a second to see what’s being said? Yes, it slides down easily. Right before it makes us sick.
We do this because inside every one of us lives a little bit of Salacious Crumb-like fascination with the perils other people face. Do you remember him, the yellow-eyed monkey-lizard from Return of the Jedi?
Salacious Crumb was the court jester for crime lord Jabba the Hutt and had a maniacal, cackling laugh you don’t soon forget. The terms of Crumb’s employment were straightforward: if the strange beast managed to amuse Jabba at least once daily, then he would be allowed to stay and to eat and drink as much as he wished. If he failed to do so, he would be killed. To accomplish his do-or-die goal, Crumb mocked anyone and everyone—except his boss, of course—doing virtually anything to get a laugh.
The part of him that resides in our sometimes-deceitful hearts is that part that cranes toward salacious crumbs of another’s misfortune or grief. Collectively, our self-esteem is very low, and so when we hear someone quietly say, “You won’t believe what she did . . .” even across a crowded room, we can’t help but inch our way toward the gossipy morsel in the hope of learning something bad about someone else so that we can feel better about ourselves.
And despite our protests to the contrary, Christians can be the worst at this. We nod our heads in agreement that good favor with God is gained not by works of righteousness but by unmerited grace, even as we troll for ways to elevate ourselves by rolling around in the details of someone else’s plight like a dog in the carcass of a dead skunk.
“Well, if he’s struggling with porn, then maybe this lust thing I’m wrestling with isn’t really so bad after all.”
“Wow. She said that? I’m not as horrible a wife as I thought.”
“What? He got picked up on a DUI? I may drink a bottle of wine a night, but I would never, ever get a DUI.”
“I can’t believe it. He was sleeping with her all along. Only a fool gets caught!”
Juicy morsels, swept from the table of despair; but aren’t we all prey to swallowing them, bite after delectable bite?
“You are my beloved,” God says. “You are my prize. I have loved you with an everlasting love. You don’t have to earn it; it’s already yours.” And yet we keep on fighting for ways to prove that we’re not as bad as the next guy, or the next gal.
“No proof necessary whatsoever,” God whispers, even as we turn to a friend and spread the smut.
It happened again today. I was having a normal conversation at Panera Bread with someone I know, and then without any notice, he took a hard left turn, no clutch. Within seconds, he had delved into chatter about a mutual friend of ours. “Hey, did you hear about . . .” was how it began. I felt my head shaking before I had a chance to process the fact that by shaking my head—and, in effect, answering his question—I was encouraging him to go on. I didn’t want him to go on, but before I gathered my wits enough to discourage him, he’d continued.
Before I even realized, the catfish was sliding down again.
Gossip is two things: it is sharing the right information with the wrong person, and it is sharing the wrong information with anyone. As the immediate details this man was sharing flooded my consciousness, I realized I was neither part of our mutual friend’s problem, nor part of his solution.
The information being passed to me had no business being shared. I held up my hand to stop my friend from going on, but it was too late. I already knew our mutual friend’s situation—probably a situation he didn’t want me to know. (If he wanted me to know, he would have told me himself, right?)
I thought back to the night before, when Pam and the kids and I were at our friends’ house. They had just gotten a new puppy. All the kids were jostling the poor pooch around so much that after an hour or so, the over-stimulated dog vomited all over Callie.
Callie came rushing downstairs to the basement where the adults were watching a ballgame, and said, “Dad, the dog just threw up all over me.” She wanted me to help her clean things up, but as I took her in standing there with goo all over her shirt, I thought, “I’m not going to get out of this situation without also getting slimed.”
That’s gossip, in a nutshell: signing up to get totally slimed.
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