Gossip and ownward spirals

Ethno­graph­ic Study Looks at Gos­sip in the Work­place” in the NYTimes:

The ear­lier stud­ies found that once some­one made a neg­a­tive
com­ment about a per­son who wasn’t there, the con­ver­sa­tion would get
mean­er unless some­one imme­di­ate­ly defend­ed the tar­get. Oth­er­wise, among
both adults and teenagers, the insults would keep com­ing because there
was so much social pres­sure to agree with the oth­ers.

Some inter­est­ing here. They say gos­sip usu­al­ly spi­rals down until
some­one inter­ve­nes to defend or deflect. In one school, gos­sip set up
rival camps; teach­ers even­tu­al­ly left and stu­dent test scores fell. 

Friends
(and Chris­tians more gen­er­al­ly) are offi­cial­ly again­st gos­sip, though
of course we’re not immune and I’ve seen it act as almost a kind of
cur­ren­cy in some set­tings. But what are the clas­sic Quak­er tools for
deflect­ing this nat­u­ral human ten­den­cy and keep­ing our com­mu­ni­ties from
the down­ward spi­rals of camp build­ing?

Posted November 3rd, 2009 , in Uncategorized. Tagged
  • 37stories

    Enjoyed your blog. You ref­er­ence Harold Behr as a Sim­ple Church Planter. Is he still plant­i­ng? Can I make con­tact with him. I am start­ing a new work called Fresh Con­nec­tions. I’d like to learn from his strug­gles. http://​freshc​.org archie

  • Archie: glad you like the blog. I haven’t heard from Harold in a few years
    (and I nev­er real­ly knew him). Last I heard the church plant­i­ng project ran
    into inter­nal year­ly meet­ing pol­i­tics and he moved on.

    • indy­beck­ih

      I think this should be a huge top­ic for Friends, espe­cial­ly the Youth, who are by nature more dri­ven by peer pres­sure.
      Our Year­ly Meeting’s Youth Direc­tor encour­aged the youth to gath­er to protest a local Friends pas­tor, whose own Month­ly Meet­ing (as well as sev­er­al oth­ers), sup­port his min­istry ful­ly. The result of this encour­age­ment at the hands of the Youth Direc­tor was that remarks were made that were incen­di­ary, unQuak­er­ly, and unChris­tian.
      If any­one has any ideas, or tried and true strate­gies for build­ing up rather than tear­ing down, we’d be eager to hear them.

  • 37stories

    Enjoyed your blog. You ref­er­ence Harold Behr as a Sim­ple Church Planter. Is he still plant­i­ng? Can I make con­tact with him. I am start­ing a new work called Fresh Con­nec­tions. I’d like to learn from his strug­gles. http://​freshc​.org archie

    • Archie: glad you like the blog. I haven’t heard from Harold in a few years
      (and I nev­er real­ly knew him). Last I heard the church plant­i­ng project ran
      into inter­nal year­ly meet­ing pol­i­tics and he moved on.

  • Raye

    Here is what I have tried, and it works to get my own behav­iors out of the down­ward spi­ral, and often seems to moti­vate oth­ers to do the same. 

    As I offer this to you, it occurs to me that because it was writ­ten a long time ago, and because you may have heard it before, it may seem trite. But fol­low­ing this approach, which has an inward and an out­ward dimen­sion, works. It can be painful, it can stir up people’s opin­ions again­st you because it may step on some toes. (In my life, by the way, I can only do this with divine assis­tance through prayer, and res­olute­ly set­ting aside any­thing that inter­fer­es with fol­low­ing this way.) Here goes.

    I prefer to use The Mes­sage, because the lan­guage is more con­tem­po­rary and under­stand­able to me. Please use what makes sense to you.

    Gala­tians Chap­ter 5:16 – 23
    Matthew 18:21 – 22
    1 Corinthi­ans 13
    James 3:3 – 18

    Anoth­er I recall often, to keep myself in line, is Matthew 13:24 – 30. A few vers­es lat­er, some­thing absolute­ly vital is explained in under­stand­ing the sto­ry. “The reapers are the angels.” Not peo­ple, not us. The angels do the sort­ing out. It is not my job.

  • indy­beck­ih

    The pas­sage in James is par­tic­u­lar­ly a pro­pos here. I thank you for point­ing me in that direc­tion. Much of what we’re expe­ri­enc­ing here is tied up with the­ol­o­gy and ide­ol­o­gy and what we say vs our actions.

  • Raye

    Mar­t­in, I post­ed a brief respon­se else­where, but because I think it is impor­tant, here are some thoughts on clas­sic Quak­er tools.

    Queries and advices, at least in my YM, cov­er this top­ic. So answer­ing queries indi­vid­u­al­ly and as a group, and tak­ing heed of the advices helps pre­vent this non­sense. Lis­ten­ing, in dai­ly times of retire­ment, to what the Lord tells us will keep us far­ther away from self­ish­ness and closer to Him, short-circuiting the human fail­ing of tear­ing oth­ers down to build our­selves up. Whole­some reg­u­lar fel­low­ship, with the goal of build­ing one anoth­er, and thus the com­mu­ni­ty, up, in our most holy faith, can squeeze out gos­sip and camp build­ing.

  • Wow, that’s a pret­ty bad sit­u­a­tion. For what it’s worth, Jesus is pret­ty clear that we will be both mis-understood and inten­tion­al­ly mis-characterized. Some­times the best we can do is to just hold as close as we can to char­i­ty and to do our best to keep our­selves (and our sup­port­ers) from get­ting caught up in the dra­ma. Part of the spi­ral is react­ing to this kind of overt provo­ca­tion. We need to be brave enough to be meek.

  • indy­beck­ih

    I think this should be a huge top­ic for Friends, espe­cial­ly the Youth, who are by nature more dri­ven by peer pres­sure.
    Our Year­ly Meeting’s Youth Direc­tor encour­aged the youth to gath­er to protest a local Friends pas­tor, whose own Month­ly Meet­ing (as well as sev­er­al oth­ers), sup­port his min­istry ful­ly. The result of this encour­age­ment at the hands of the Youth Direc­tor was that remarks were made that were incen­di­ary, unQuak­er­ly, and unChris­tian.
    If any­one has any ideas, or tried and true strate­gies for build­ing up rather than tear­ing down, we’d be eager to hear them.

    • Raye

      Here is what I have tried, and it works to get my own behav­iors out of the down­ward spi­ral, and often seems to moti­vate oth­ers to do the same. 

      As I offer this to you, it occurs to me that because it was writ­ten a long time ago, and because you may have heard it before, it may seem trite. But fol­low­ing this approach, which has an inward and an out­ward dimen­sion, works. It can be painful, it can stir up people’s opin­ions again­st you because it may step on some toes. (In my life, by the way, I can only do this with divine assis­tance through prayer, and res­olute­ly set­ting aside any­thing that inter­fer­es with fol­low­ing this way.) Here goes.

      I prefer to use The Mes­sage, because the lan­guage is more con­tem­po­rary and under­stand­able to me. Please use what makes sense to you.

      Gala­tians Chap­ter 5:16 – 23
      Matthew 18:21 – 22
      1 Corinthi­ans 13
      James 3:3 – 18

      Anoth­er I recall often, to keep myself in line, is Matthew 13:24 – 30. A few vers­es lat­er, some­thing absolute­ly vital is explained in under­stand­ing the sto­ry. “The reapers are the angels.” Not peo­ple, not us. The angels do the sort­ing out. It is not my job.

      • indy­beck­ih

        The pas­sage in James is par­tic­u­lar­ly a pro­pos here. I thank you for point­ing me in that direc­tion. Much of what we’re expe­ri­enc­ing here is tied up with the­ol­o­gy and ide­ol­o­gy and what we say vs our actions.

    • Wow, that’s a pret­ty bad sit­u­a­tion. For what it’s worth, Jesus is pret­ty clear that we will be both mis-understood and inten­tion­al­ly mis-characterized. Some­times the best we can do is to just hold as close as we can to char­i­ty and to do our best to keep our­selves (and our sup­port­ers) from get­ting caught up in the dra­ma. Part of the spi­ral is react­ing to this kind of overt provo­ca­tion. We need to be brave enough to be meek.

    • Richquak­er

      Dear Indy­beck­ih,
      Just to illus­trate how tricky this issue is, I find myself won­der­ing whether your com­ments aout your Meeting’s Youth Direc­tor aren’t also gos­sip. Most of us don’t know who you’re talk­ing about of course, but prob­a­bly some peo­ple do. The youth director’s actions, as described, seem very hurt­ful and uncalled-for. But of course we don’t know his or her side of the sto­ry, don’t know what form the “encour­age­ment” took, don’t know what the objec­tion to the local Friends pas­tor was, don’t know whether the local pas­tor had been approached direct­ly first, etc. etc.

      I’m sen­si­tive to this issue because a mem­ber of my meet­ing has been broad­cast­ing on the inter­net his belief that oth­er mem­bers of the meet­ing are back­bit­ing, gos­sip­ing, etc. He doesn’t name those mem­bers, but I know who he’s talk­ing about and I know there are oth­er sides of the sto­ry. I’d imag­ine they feel very hurt and mis­un­der­stood.

      Of course, by telling you this I may myself be gos­sip­ing. You see how com­pli­cat­ed it gets.
       — - Rich Accetta-Evans

  • Raye

    Mar­t­in, I post­ed a brief respon­se else­where, but because I think it is impor­tant, here are some thoughts on clas­sic Quak­er tools.

    Queries and advices, at least in my YM, cov­er this top­ic. So answer­ing queries indi­vid­u­al­ly and as a group, and tak­ing heed of the advices helps pre­vent this non­sense. Lis­ten­ing, in dai­ly times of retire­ment, to what the Lord tells us will keep us far­ther away from self­ish­ness and closer to Him, short-circuiting the human fail­ing of tear­ing oth­ers down to build our­selves up. Whole­some reg­u­lar fel­low­ship, with the goal of build­ing one anoth­er, and thus the com­mu­ni­ty, up, in our most holy faith, can squeeze out gos­sip and camp build­ing.

  • Richquak­er

    I think the arti­cle “Detrac­tion” by Seth Hin­shaw is immense­ly help­ful. It’s avail­able in print­ed form from the Friends Tract Asso­ci­a­tion and is also online at http://​www​.trac​tas​so​ci​a​tion​.org/​h​i​t​e​c​.​htm

    One prob­lem is that many of us don’t know when we’re gos­sip­ing. We may think we’re doing well by out­ing some­one else’s inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior. That’s why Jesus’ instruc­tions on how to deal with each oth­er in Matthew 18:15 – 17 are so impor­tant. I would add that I don’t think Jesus was say­ing we have to be con­stant­ly call­ing each oth­er on our sup­posed sins, but that if we feel we need to do so we should do it face to face and not by spread­ing our tale among third par­ties.

  • Richquak­er

    Dear Indy­beck­ih,
    Just to illus­trate how tricky this issue is, I find myself won­der­ing whether your com­ments aout your Meeting’s Youth Direc­tor aren’t also gos­sip. Most of us don’t know who you’re talk­ing about of course, but prob­a­bly some peo­ple do. The youth director’s actions, as described, seem very hurt­ful and uncalled-for. But of course we don’t know his or her side of the sto­ry, don’t know what form the “encour­age­ment” took, don’t know what the objec­tion to the local Friends pas­tor was, don’t know whether the local pas­tor had been approached direct­ly first, etc. etc.

    I’m sen­si­tive to this issue because a mem­ber of my meet­ing has been broad­cast­ing on the inter­net his belief that oth­er mem­bers of the meet­ing are back­bit­ing, gos­sip­ing, etc. He doesn’t name those mem­bers, but I know who he’s talk­ing about and I know there are oth­er sides of the sto­ry. I’d imag­ine they feel very hurt and mis­un­der­stood.

    Of course, by telling you this I may myself be gos­sip­ing. You see how com­pli­cat­ed it gets.
    - — Rich Accetta-Evans

  • indy­beck­iH

    Rich — of course, you’re right. We weave a huge­ly tan­gled web. And it would be nice if we all sat down and talked with each oth­er until we fig­ured it out. And it would also be won­der­ful if every­one could hear the Spir­it in the same way, what­ev­er the mes­sage.

    How­ev­er — I think a point to con­sid­er is — for what rea­son are you speak­ing about the oth­er per­son? We are not seek­ing to have the youth direc­tor removed. She is skilled at her job, and is a good orga­niz­er. Her actions — using her great orga­ni­za­tion­al skills — were to encour­age the youth to come to Year­ly Meet­ing in a large group and protest the pas­tor with whom the YM has issue. 

    Since this con­flict with­in the YM has come to a head, there have been sev­er­al face-to-face meet­ings (includ­ing talks with the youth direc­tor her­self), fol­low­ing the John Wool­man mod­el, with no clar­i­ty reached. I think it’s less gos­sip than just try­ing to fig­ure out what to do next to see if we can work with uni­ty in the face of diver­si­ty, and if uni­ty can­not be reached, what do we do next? All actions have ram­i­fi­ca­tions, good and/or bad.

  • Richquak­er

    indy­beck­iH,
    I trust that you and oth­ers of like mind will find a clear way for­ward (or — if there is not clear way for­ward — will con­tin­ue to wait). It sounds like you are all try­ing hard to fol­low gospel order. I appre­ci­ate the fact that you don’t iden­ti­fy the indi­vid­u­als or YM involved on this forum. I sup­posed that with­in your YM this is all stuff that’s out in the open already as it should be.
    I’m sor­ry if I seemed at all preachy or self-righteous in my orig­i­nal com­ment. God knows I have lit­tle stand­ing to try to be remov­ing grains of sand from anyone’s eye.
    - -Rich Accetta-Evans
    - — Rich

  • indy­beck­ih

    Not preachy at all, Rich — I appre­ci­ate hear­ing from some­one who is out of the vor­tex of the con­flict. All of us here are con­vinced that we are fol­low­ing the Spirit’s lead­ing, which con­fus­es us since we’re get­ting such dis­parate mes­sages. It’s good to process obser­va­tions from some­one who has no pri­or bias (or to put it less Quak­er­ly — “no dog in the fight”).indybeckih

    Thanks!

  • Richquak­er

    I think the arti­cle “Detrac­tion” by Seth Hin­shaw is immense­ly help­ful. It’s avail­able in print­ed form from the Friends Tract Asso­ci­a­tion and is also online at http://​www​.trac​tas​so​ci​a​tion​.org/​h​i​t​e​c​.​htm

    One prob­lem is that many of us don’t know when we’re gos­sip­ing. We may think we’re doing well by out­ing some­one else’s inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior. That’s why Jesus’ instruc­tions on how to deal with each oth­er in Matthew 18:15 – 17 are so impor­tant. I would add that I don’t think Jesus was say­ing we have to be con­stant­ly call­ing each oth­er on our sup­posed sins, but that if we feel we need to do so we should do it face to face and not by spread­ing our tale among third par­ties.

    • indy­beck­iH

      Rich — of course, you’re right. We weave a huge­ly tan­gled web. And it would be nice if we all sat down and talked with each oth­er until we fig­ured it out. And it would also be won­der­ful if every­one could hear the Spir­it in the same way, what­ev­er the mes­sage.

      How­ev­er — I think a point to con­sid­er is — for what rea­son are you speak­ing about the oth­er per­son? We are not seek­ing to have the youth direc­tor removed. She is skilled at her job, and is a good orga­niz­er. Her actions — using her great orga­ni­za­tion­al skills — were to encour­age the youth to come to Year­ly Meet­ing in a large group and protest the pas­tor with whom the YM has issue. 

      Since this con­flict with­in the YM has come to a head, there have been sev­er­al face-to-face meet­ings (includ­ing talks with the youth direc­tor her­self), fol­low­ing the John Wool­man mod­el, with no clar­i­ty reached. I think it’s less gos­sip than just try­ing to fig­ure out what to do next to see if we can work with uni­ty in the face of diver­si­ty, and if uni­ty can­not be reached, what do we do next? All actions have ram­i­fi­ca­tions, good and/or bad.

      • Richquak­er

        indy­beck­iH,
        I trust that you and oth­ers of like mind will find a clear way for­ward (or — if there is not clear way for­ward — will con­tin­ue to wait). It sounds like you are all try­ing hard to fol­low gospel order. I appre­ci­ate the fact that you don’t iden­ti­fy the indi­vid­u­als or YM involved on this forum. I sup­posed that with­in your YM this is all stuff that’s out in the open already as it should be.
        I’m sor­ry if I seemed at all preachy or self-righteous in my orig­i­nal com­ment. God knows I have lit­tle stand­ing to try to be remov­ing grains of sand from anyone’s eye.
         — -Rich Accetta-Evans
         — - Rich

        • indy­beck­ih

          Not preachy at all, Rich — I appre­ci­ate hear­ing from some­one who is out of the vor­tex of the con­flict. All of us here are con­vinced that we are fol­low­ing the Spirit’s lead­ing, which con­fus­es us since we’re get­ting such dis­parate mes­sages. It’s good to process obser­va­tions from some­one who has no pri­or bias (or to put it less Quak­er­ly — “no dog in the fight”).indybeckih

          Thanks!

  • Mar­t­in, I appre­ci­ate you post­ing about this, and I’ve respond­ed in my own blog, obe​di​ent​tothe​light​.blogspot​.com. It’s a good sub­ject, and one that affects any close com­mu­ni­ty.
    Bless­ings, Lin­da

  • Mar­t­in, I appre­ci­ate you post­ing about this, and I’ve respond­ed in my own blog, obe​di​ent​tothe​light​.blogspot​.com. It’s a good sub­ject, and one that affects any close com­mu­ni­ty.
    Bless­ings, Lin­da

  • Alice_Yaxley

    Not ancient wis­dom but here are a few oth­er posts in this top­ic I’ve been read­ing up:

    This post describes a sit­u­a­tion in Meet­ing where gos­sip was acknowl­edged to be part of the prob­lem and Mar­shall Massey com­ment­ed to it v infor­ma­tive­ly with some old­er quotes as well: http://​friend​-in​-need​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​0​7​/​1​0​/​c​all

    Your own tag about detrac­tion col­lects up some great posts imho
    http://​www​.quak​er​ran​ter​.org/​t​a​g​/​d​e​t​r​a​c​t​ion

    And there’s an inter­est­ing doc­u­ment from the Faith and Prac­tice of South­east­ern Yeal­ry Meet­ing about the “Blessed com­mu­ni­ty” here:
    http://www.seym.org/FP.pdf/BlessedCommun%200407

    I’ve been work­ing on just try­ing to turn my thoughts and the con­ver­sa­tion back towards Jesus when I see neg­a­tiv­i­ty sur­fac­ing. LIke it’s not inter­est­ing, but sal­va­tion is real­ly inter­est­ing!

  • Alice_Yaxley

    Not ancient wis­dom but here are a few oth­er posts in this top­ic I’ve been read­ing up:This post describes a sit­u­a­tion in Meet­ing where gos­sip was acknowl­edged to be part of the prob­lem and Mar­shall Massey com­ment­ed to it v infor­ma­tive­ly with some old­er quotes as well: http://​friend​-in​-need​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​0​7​/​1​0​/​c​all…Your own tag about detrac­tion col­lects up some great posts imhohttp://​www​.quak​er​ran​ter​.org/​t​a​g​/​d​e​t​r​a​c​t​ionAnd there’s an inter­est­ing doc­u­ment from the Faith and Prac­tice of South­east­ern Yeal­ry Meet­ing about the “Blessed com­mu­ni­ty” here: http://www.seym.org/FP.pdf/BlessedCommun%200407

    I’ve been work­ing on just try­ing to turn my thoughts and the con­ver­sa­tion back towards Jesus when I see neg­a­tiv­i­ty sur­fac­ing. LIke it’s not inter­est­ing, but sal­va­tion is real­ly inter­est­ing!