A close relative called me last night. She wanted to talk about what another family member had said to her. I’m not going to call anybody out here, so let’s just call the one I was talking to E, and the other one B. E said something to B that upset B and… well, it wasn’t pretty. Both E and B are church going, practicing Christians. E spends a lot of time praying for my soul. She’s not really sure that being a lesbian is a sin, but she prays for me anyway, just in case. E also has a way of asking irritating personal questions. Honestly, I really don’t think she means anything by it. She’s just curious, and unfortunately doesn’t possess a keen since of inappropriate meddling. People that know E simply call her on it. She will then explain why she asked and most of the time it really is a harmless inquiry.
I listened patiently as the whole sorted tale was laid out for me. From the description of the events, it got pretty nasty. E wanted to know if her behavior had caused B’s outburst. She wanted my opinion and I gave it to her. I don’t think it was what she was expecting.
My first question was, “Did she say all that while her (barely teenaged) daughter was in the car with you?” E said that yes, the daughter was in the backseat. “That’s unfortunate,” I replied. “I hope her daughter doesn’t model that behavior, but then that’s the model B grew up with.”
“But did I cause that?” E asked again.
“No, that outburst has been a long time coming. B has an awful lot of baggage to carry around. You hit a nerve, and you know you do that, but her response was over the top. Think about it this way. You are pretty much what she has left of the adults she grew up with. She was going to blow eventually, so you just happened to be the one standing there when it happened. She’s hurt and scared and you were there. That was a lot of pain and anger she let loose. You saved some unsuspecting stranger from that. Maybe you had to endure it so she can heal.”
E protested a bit. “But she said some horrible things about C (another family member,) and then went on and on about D (more family.)”
“Look,” I said, “that’s packing tales. There’s enough of that going around and I’m not interested in what he said, or she said. I’ll tell you what I think the problem is. People used to live among family members. They saw each other frequently. We all did, growing up. We spent every holiday and most weekends with one part of the family or the other. We’re spread across the country now. I think we’d be a closer and happier family if we still had family reunions, because you can’t be an ass around your family. They will tell you all about it. People should have to look each other in the eye from time to time. It’s a lot harder to spread the venom when everyone is on the same page.”
“You’re right. I’m just so upset.”
“Own what you did and then reach out to her, if you want to. That’s entirely up to you. Like I said, she’s hurting and you’re really the only parent figure she has left. You can be the adult and show that child in the backseat that love and understanding can fix even the most severely broken heart. B surely has one of those.”
“But her behavior…”
“Stop,” I said.
I’ve been dealing with my own little nest of tale packers and I was primed for this conversation. E listened quietly, namely because I did not give her time to speak, as I continued.
“I’m just not participating in this. It has nothing to do with me. That’s what’s wrong with everything today. Somebody says something about someone else as if it were a fact, and that gets packed around as the gospel. What happened to looking people in the eye when you called them out? What happened to not talking about something if you were not there? What happened to coming right out and talking to the person you have a problem with? When did we become a society that would lie and cheat with impunity, because it only counts if you’re caught?”
“We are all up in arms because of bullying in schools. If you ask me, the kids are just repeating the behavior modeled by the adults today. Adults lie about a co-worker for no reason other than to cause that person problems. Adults get on Facebook and mount campaigns against exes, or friends that made them mad. They talk behind each other’s backs, packing tales they know have no basis in fact, too eager to join in the bullying of another. Petty jealousies turn into all out wars. Our politicians engage in hate speech and no one calls them out. The parties bully each other, slinging unfounded accusations. Who is telling the truth anymore? I think it’s time everybody grew up. Don’t listen to gossip and certainly don’t spread it. Do you know what really happened? No, you don’t and neither do I. What does that bible you’re always quoting have to say about all this? If I remember correctly, it says something about casting first stones. You can do the Christian thing here and love her through this, forgive her pain generated lashing out, and help her find the peace she so desperately needs.”
The phone grew very quiet. E was thinking. She finally said, “Well, I guess you’re right. I have to go now.”
That’s how we stop it. That’s how we change the path we’re on. Stop listening to the gossip, stop packing tales, mind your own business, be kind to one another, and remember, unless we have walked in that person’s shoes, we have no idea what their life is like. No, we don’t have to stand by and take crap from people, smile and pretend their words don’t hurt, but there would be a lot less crap to take, if people would just stop listening to it. When someone starts packing tales, walk away. Maybe some day when the tales are about you, people will walk away and not listen. If you can’t look someone in the eye and repeat what you’re saying about them, then don’t say it to someone else. That’s how we regain our common decency, our humanity, our ability to really communicate. Unless the adults start modeling good behavior and upstanding character, we can pump millions into anti-bullying campaigns and see no results.
“For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little? That's how peace begins.” Spoken by Eleanor of Aquitaine, from the “Lion in Winter,” by James Goldman.