I was attending a talk by doctors. The hall was filled with experts in the same field, a number of them had been working together for years. The professors presented their slides. Questions were asked, discussions made. What followed was a pleasant discourse among colleagues.
However, there was one lecturer who couldn’t make it. And so he sent his slide presentation and asked another colleague to read it aloud.
Poor professor. What followed next was a critique of his presentation. One chastised him for being careless about maps. A few chided him for not providing a disclaimer about his findings. Here was a roomful of academe, learned on the subject, dressing down a colleague who was not even there.
The very same thing happens to a friend who couldn’t make it to a get-together. We pass it off as a joke: that the absentee will be the evening’s “sumsuman,” the dish, subject matter, and most probably the night’s keynote address. But it happens all the time. We talk about you because you are not there, just as I am certain I have been made the juicy tidbit quite a few times.
I am not talking about gossiping about a stranger, the actress, the latest scandal, or someone we mutually detest. Let’s not even go there.
I am talking about the tittle-tattle among friends, about friends. A tight-knit circle where the rules of get-together require that time is spent bragging about kids and then dishing about the friends who are not there.
It sure makes for entertaining conversation. The gripe-session grips me. You feel more important, because you’re figuring out someone else’s life, judging what’s wrong with it, and know exactly how to render it right. Except the friend will never hear of your breakthrough. The advice you want to grant her is right behind her back.
This obsession about a friend’s life, that we find amusement in another one’s blunder, and that we like dishing the dirt, especially, or perhaps, only when they are not around, what good does it do? Does the friend magically mend just because we’re whispering about her miserable life and discussing what she could have done better behind her back? Why spend time dressing down an absentee, when he’s not there? Surely he cannot do better next time because no one will tell him so. Even when we might be on to some truth. There’s a real story behind the version you tell that you will never know because you don’t ask. You just tell. Treachery. Like stabbing someone in the back, when she’s unarmed and defenseless.
Now how can I trust my circle of friends? And even, how do I expect them to trust me, when I could easily betray a friend as I dish about her life and indiscretion at the tittle-tattle?
And so what about tuning out for now, withdrawing from the gossip game, so I stop betraying myself and how bored I am. Next time we do our little shindig, I’ll talk to you about you and me, and not about the next-door neighbor or the BFF who’s unavailable. And when you begin dishing out something juicy, I’m going to shush and simply eat. And it won’t be your story. And to the friends I’ve dished out on: sorry. Backstabbing among friends, it’s so not cool.