Flurry of Feathers

This is something that’s been on my heart for quite a while now, and I have yet to come up with any answers as to why we do it.

Let’s face it, Christian or otherwise, people are just generally not very good at communicating with one another. Yesterday over a bowl of Potato Pepperjack Soup from South Union (outstanding soup, by the way), a friend of mine told me that her friends know that when she says, “Nothing!” that she is actually trying to say, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Everyone does this is some way or another. Smiling and nodding at someone when you’re not really interested in what they’re saying, or saying you understand someone so you don’t have to face the embarrassment of not understanding – all sorts of little lies and miscommunication.

So, if everyone does it, what’s the problem?

Well, quite a few things. For starters, lying isn’t good. Even in a casual greeting, if someone asks how you’re doing and you tell them, “Good!” when you’re really not, you lied to them. I don’t think we’re called to tell the truth unless we think that the person isn’t really interested in hearing what we have to say.

That’s just one example. But, there’s one particular behavior regarding poor communication that I am finding interesting. What I’m finding is that our propensity as people, when we’re confused by another, is to go to a third person. When someone behaves in a way that perplexes us, we go ask someone else why they did it. When a significant other is speaking another language to us, we run to a friend of the same gender for translation.

My question is: How rational is this? If you’re confused by someone, what are the odds that another person is going to understand them any better than you? Sure, they may have more reasonable assumptions than you, but they’re still just assumptions, right? Wouldn’t it be more rational to ask the person who is confusing you what they actually mean?

But, we almost never do this, and I have no idea why. I do understand that there is merit in sorting out your own feelings and thoughts with a friend. For instance, if you’re in a disagreement, sometimes it’s constructive to explain how you’re reacting to the situation to an objective third party as a “head check” to make sure you’re not being unreasonable. However, beyond that point, involving someone else can be downright destructive, and basically gossip. The inflection point is when the conversation fails to be constructive. Gossip, in English at least, is defined as “idle” talk (pointless).

I have a coworker who loves to assume he knows other people’s motives. He is convinced that everyone else is motivated by cynicism and is out to make his life miserable. I know this because, well, he tells me about it. Almost everyday I’m told how one coworker who was assigning him work was particularly condescending to him (when in reality, he was just doing his job) or how another coworker is overreacting and being a hot-head about everything towards him.

Here’s the hard question though: If he actually felt talked-down to, or irritated by perceived anger, wouldn’t it make more sense for him to talk to those people, and not me? Probably…

...Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to tell him this instead of griping about it in a blog? Probably…

Anyway, if any of you have seen the movie Doubt, you might remember this. But, I heard a cool analogy about gossip in that movie. It really challenged me to think differently about how I address situations involving a third person. It challenged me to ask myself if I really want to discuss something important and reach a conclusion, or if I just want to complain and make someone else look bad.

Here’s a paraphrase of the story based on my [questionable] memory:

A woman went to confession, and asked the priest about gossip. She explained what she had done, and asked if what she had done was really gossip. The priest told her that yes, it was gossip and that yes, she needed to confess and repent for it.

After that, he told her to go home, take a pillow from her bed, go up to the roof of her house, and stab the pillow with a knife.

She returned to the priest and he asked if she had stabbed the pillow like he asked. She told him that she had. The priest asked her what happened, and she told him that she saw feathers, tons and tons of feathers.

The priest told her to go recollect all of the feathers that had flown from the pillow. The woman responded telling him that it would be impossible. The wind had blown them in a million different places and they couldn’t possibly be found.

“THAT is gossip!” the priest replied.

So, as a fellow human being, I’d encourage you to be counter-cultural. If someone isn’t being clear with you, or you don’t understand them, do the “weird” thing and ask for more explanation. If someone is upsetting you, take some time to cool down, and then talk to them about it. They’re not easy conversations to have, but they’re necessary. The world will know we are followers of Christ by how we love one another – never forget that!


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