Thursday, July 06, 2006

American Gossip

A very brief article entitled, “Why it’s Good to Gossip,” appeared in the June 2006 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal. The report noted that a recent University of St. Andrews study found that participants tended to remember information about other people’s relationships more than information that has nothing to do with relationships, like geographic data. The article asserts that humans are predisposed to gossip. Therefore, gossip isn’t bad. It’s natural human behavior. Gossip is an activity that may have played an important role in human social interaction during the evolutionary process. We gossip and that’s ok. After all, we were born that way.

Since gossip is natural to our human nature, shouldn’t we try to liberate ourselves from any negative feelings we have about it and enjoy the natural pleasure of gossip?

Well, not really.

The article shows how the social sciences can perform a study that tells us about a certain aspect of human behavior, but misunderstand the results by trying to make sense of the data from a defective secular perspective. If a woman wants to understand our natural human nature, what it means to be human and what is good for our spiritual health, she would discover much more by living the Orthodox Christian way of life than reading a magazine for women or paying attention to these kinds of studies. The popular American media often promotes incredibly bad ideas about sexuality, relationships, success, attitudes, and other aspects of human life that are harmful to the body and soul, and damaging to people’s relationships with each other.

What can the Orthodox Christian way of life teach us about gossip and human nature? Here are a few things worth mentioning:

We shouldn’t be surprised that people remember information about relationships more than other kinds of data. God, our Creator, is relational by nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God. He created us in His image, making us both male and female, so that within marriage each of us can experience a special union in relationship with another person. The two find union in the One who joined them together. Christ has established on earth the Orthodox Church, the mystical community of His disciples who live the spiritual way of life together in communion with God. Our Creator, who loves mankind, has laid out the way of salvation as a path to Paradise to be walked together as a community, not alone.

We were designed for communication with pure lips that speak the thoughts of a clean heart. Gossip is not part of the spiritual life. It is a result of the influence of death in the world. When we gossip, we allow the negative passions that draw us away from God to control us. It is a sin, a self-centered act contrary to love and humility, produced by pride and judgmental attitudes. It is harmful to the health of our own souls and can also harm others, whom we should love. When we gossip, the tongue created to bless becomes a poisonous weapon to curse.

We are predisposed to gossip because we are predisposed to sin. Our predisposition to sin is a result of the affects of death in our lives and in the world. When our first parents sinned at the beginning of time, they brought into the cosmos death, which has corrupted our human nature. Gossip is not natural to our true human nature. It feels natural because we are used to living in a state of corruption. It appears natural because we see the world with warped vision. Gossip is not a consequence of human evolution. We gossip because death has corrupted our true spiritual natures. The self-centered passions that draw us away from God war within our souls. Gossip is a fruit of chaos.

The fact that humans are predisposed to gossip may be news to secular anthropologists because they have evidence to help prove the point, but Orthodox Christians have understood human nature and gossip since ancient times, not based on a study, but learned from the divine knowledge God has revealed to us and we have preserved in our way of life. We know the real reason we are predisposed to gossip, the influence of sin and death.

Beyond simply understanding gossip, we know the way to overcoming gossip so that our hearts may be purified, enabling us to communicate with others in love, mercy, and humility, as we were first created to do. The Orthodox Christian way of life is a spiritual lifestyle whereby we can escape the influence of death and become truly human. The perfect image and radiant likeness of God, the source of Life, can be restored within us. When our human nature is changed by God's grace, our hearts, thoughts, and words reveal love, harmony, wholeness, and peace. By the divine grace that flows through the Church, our predisposition to sin can be turned into a predisposition to be pure and to love. The negative self-centered passions within us can be transformed into positive, loving desires that bring good health to our own souls and to our relationships.

“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth and a door round about my lips. Incline not my heart to evil words to make excuses in sins.” - Psalm 140

“O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.” –Psalm 50

“We should keep pure from calumnious reports. To such things, the ears of those who have believed in Christ should be inaccessible. It appears to me that it is for this reason that the Instructor does not permit us to say anything that is unseemly.” – St. Clement of Alexandria

“And let not men, therefore, spend their time in barbers’ shops and taverns, babbling nonsense. And let them give up hunting for the women who sit near, and
ceaselessly talking slander against many in order to raise a laugh.” – St. Clement of Alexandria

For a portrayl of men gossiping, see Wenceslas Vácslav Brozik's The Gossip at the Art Renewal Center.

This post is related to my previous article on Orthodox Christian Anthropology.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. (Quotes from St. Clement of Alexandria from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David W. Bercot, Ed., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998. The original text is found in the text of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. The Nut Gatherers by William Bouguereau is in the public domain.)