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Tuesday, December 24

Twelve Things to Do This Christmas Besides Gossip

What good’s a family gathering 
without a little family gossip? 
(Image courtesy of 
Tophee Marquez from Pexels)
Spread some holiday holiness by being better than before
Merry Christmas. Did you hear about Uncle Frank? Also, I just saw what Trump said to Pelosi…Wait till you read this!

Yay! Another family gathering where everyone not in the room is on the menu. Who needs roast beef when we can chew up the reputation of absent Cousin Drew? Why mash potatoes when we can smash celebrities and politicians?

Interfaith kindness

You don’t have to be Christian to be Christlike, especially on this one day. (Of course, Christians ought to be exceptionally careful with their calumny, for Jesus had some harsh words about gossip:

☝️ He warned the gossiping Pharisees: “On the day of judgment you will have to give account of every careless word you speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36–37)

☝️ He instructed his disciples: “Whatever you say in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you whisper in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:3))

But it’s not just Christianity that abhors gossip. Other faith traditions are equally disapproving of “evil speaking.”

👄 The Hebrew term לשון הרע‎ (lashon hara) means “evil tongue” and is a very serious sin in the Jewish tradition.
👄 Islam considers gheebah (backbiting) akin to eating the dead, and also condemns buhtan (slander) and nameemah (malicious gossip).
👄 In the Baha’i faith, discussing the faults of others in their absence is “the worst human quality and the most great sin.”
👄 For Hindus, gossiping is “a great demon, which is not got rid of easily.”
👄 Confucius said that the gossip “must have already reached perfection, which affords him a leisure I do not possess.”

It may be “only human” to defame others, but there ain’t no version of Deity that condones it.

Why we do it

People who gossip have only three reasons:

 👉 To feel better about themselves by comparison to the person they’re criticizing. (She’s so ugly, bless her heart. I hope she finds a husband!)
 👉 To impose and enforce social order. (She’s a slut! Grab the pitchforks!)
 👉 To enhance their own reputations by association or “secret” knowledge. (My father knows the senator; he’s not the good guy he plays in public.)

All are attempts to commoditize or “other” the person in question, stripping them of humanity and isolating them from the social unit.

But neither the faithful nor the faithless hold a monopoly on othering. Consider:
 ⚡️ “She’s such a prude. She won’t let me sleep with my boyfriend in her house. What is this, 1960?”
 ⚡️ “I love telling off religious fanatics. They always try to tell people what to believe.”
 ⚡️ “He’s cis, so of course he can’t get us. What an idiot.”
 ⚡️ “You know he molests his daughter. Look at the way he looks at her.”

When we don’t know another person’s life, when we dramatize their everyday human behavior, when we caricature them, sully their reputations, and deny their good intentions, we behave unethically. Always.

But what about…

Is is always unethical to discuss others?

There are four exceptions to the “Don’t talk about other people rule.” The exceptions are:
  • 🖐 To recognize their accomplishments, without desire for reflected glory or intention to demean someone less accomplished. (Good: “My neighbor’s kid is a National Merit Scholar. She’s so smart! I’m really happy for her!” Bad: “My daughter aced the SATs. How did your daughter score?”)
  • 🖐 To offer genuine help to a person in difficulty. (Good: “Ben is in rehab and asked for visitors.” Bad: “Did you hear Ben’s in rehab? I knew he’d relapse.”)
  • 🖐 In very limited circumstances, to help yourself solve a specific relationship problem. (Good: Asking for advice from your therapist, your cleric, or anonymously from strangers on Q&A forums. Bad: Bad-mouthing your spouse to your friends, family, or ex.)
  • 🖐 To report actual criminal behavior. (Good: Crime victims and whistleblowers. Bad: Debbie Dogooder upset about an unlicensed lemonade stand.)
Honorable people discuss other people’s problems only when there’s a real probability that doing so will make the world a better, safer, kinder place. Before you talk, check your motives. If they’re even a tiny bit ugly, stuff a Christmas stocking in your mouth until the urge to dish disappears.

Maybe this Christmas, 
stick with tidings of comfort and joy. 
(Leonardo da Vinci‘s L’Annunciazione, 
image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Try a little kindness

I don’t want a lot for Christmas; there is just one thing I need. I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree. Make my wish come true-oo-ooo: All Mariah Carey, Jimmy Fallon, and I want for Christmas is you — to make the world a slightly better place.

So here are twelve tested techniques for stopping the semi-annual celebration of slander:

🎄 Praise the host. When slander sneaks in, cut it off immediately. Interrupt the speaker with praise for the host’s hospitality, cooking, or decorating. Draw everyone’s attention to the Christmas tree, the music, or the drinks.

🎁 Bring books. Before heading out to Christmas dinner, swing by the local thrift shop or raid your own bookshelves and grab a handful of good, cheap, real books to hand out to guests. Watch the quality of the conversation improve. You’ve just made Christmas a literary event, especially if any of the books contain poetry that can be read aloud. Challenge everyone to talk about which books have influenced them most, and which books they think everyone should read.

🎅🏼 Change the subject. If the family gossip tries to return to defaming grandpa or their most-hated politician, interrupt by changing the subject. Try: “Oh, gossip is so boring. Let’s talk about something more interesting. Who do you predict will go to the Superbowl?”

🌟 Start a game. “Hey, speaking of impeachment, I brought a jigsaw puzzle. What’s the biggest jigsaw you’ve ever put together? Can we make room over on this table to put it together? I’m really excited to…”

📖 Quote the Bible. “Oh, it’s Christmas. And you know what the Bible says about unwholesome talk. Let’s make it a real Christmas and only build people up, ok?” (If anyone challenges you, the citation is Ephesians 4:29.)

🤶 Ask a compelling question. Interrupt the gossiper with “Oh, that reminds me: I have a question I’ve been wanting to ask!” Then draw the entire room into discussing: What one movie do you think everyone should watch? How should our city deal with homelessness? Should I buy an Android or IPhone? Who do you think is the worst superhero sidekick ever?

🦌 Offer an observation. When someone starts demeaning Aunt Betty, observe that “Ya’ know, I suspect everybody annoys somebody, so she’s just like everyone else. Even Jesus annoyed people. They actually killed him! Have you ever wondered who gets annoyed by you? Do you think there are more than two people? I know I annoy at least three people, probably four including you.”

❄️ Call for kindness. “I’m just not up for gossip on Christmas day. Could we discuss something kinder? Maybe, like, your favorite Hallmark movie?”

👼 Change the perspective. You change the gossiper’s perspective by making gossipers themselves the topic of conversation: “But let’s not talk about her. Let’s talk about you. You seem kind of upset. Are you feeling ok about yourself?”

Alternatively: “You seem to feel really strongly about White privilege. How did that become a hot-button for you?”

🔥 Be radically compassionate. If your local gossip monger persists after being asked gently and repeatedly to stop, get radically insistent on compassion: “I need to feel good about the world. Everytime I hear something negative about someone, I’m going to challenge you to name three good things about that person. Tell me something good about Jay.”

💒 Get religious. Boldly offer to pray for the person who is gossiping. Invite them to come with you to church. Ask them about their own faith. Tell them about yours. Ask whether they believe in angels and an afterlife. Either they’ll focus on higher things, or they’ll escape and run off to the bathroom. Win/win.

👪 Volunteer to read the Christmas story. “It’s Christmas. I want to do something significant. Let’s talk about the reason we’re even having this holiday. This year, I want us to quiet down and listen to the Christmas story. I have it here on my phone. (Luke 2:1–20) Everyone ready?”

Bonus tip

👩‍🎤 Start singing. If you don’t have an instrument handy, crank up the holiday music on your phone. Maybe have this one locked and loaded: the most gorgeous version ever of Let There be Peace on Earth.

Your family may never break the gossip habit. But use these tips and at least on this one day, you will have done something to make the holiday more peaceful and more kind.

And if that’s all that happens, you’ve still done something good. Toast yourself and enjoy the next twelve days of Christmas!

✨✨ ✨✨✨✨

LauraMaery Gold, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist in private practice, and director of the The Relationship Institute. She lives with her husband in a 400-year-old castle outside Paris. They have a ridiculous number of kids and grandkids.

This article is published simultaneously ar Relating magazine