Thu 26 Dec. 2013, 14:00 CAT
It seems it is increasingly becoming difficult for us not to speak ill of one another. This really seems to be a very hard thing for most of us and, hence, we think it is something that we need to deeply reflect and meditate over during this festive period.
Gossip seems to be the order of the day in Zambia. Wherever one goes, one is greeted by 'have you heard?'! Gossip seems to be everywhere every day. No institution or grouping seems to be spared. And with the advent of Internet, the so-called social media is full of nothing but gossip. Facebook seems to be anchored on gossip. Twitter is twitting gossip. Bloggers are blogging gossip. Everything seems to be unstoppable where gossip is concerned.
But gossip is not good for the community and for the individual. Gossip hurts the spirit of unity. And as Saint Augustine put it, "There are men of rash judgement, detractors, scandal mongers, gossipy, determined to suspect what they do not see, and to spread around even what they do not suspect."
Gossip attracts our attention to the faults and defects of others, so as to feel better ourselves. The prayer of the Pharisee in the temple is an example, and Jesus had warned about looking at the speck in our neighbour's eye while ignoring the beam in our own.
To speak ill of others is bad for the individual and for every institution, be it government or state, church or otherwise, because the words do not remain words; they generate aggression, at least in the heart. St Augustine called such men "incurable".
It is said that "they are incurable those who neglect their own sins to focus on those of others. They do not intend to correct, but to bite. And, unable to excuse themselves, they are always ready to accuse others. All that remains with them is the illness of animosity. This is the weaker, the stronger is one who thinks it is".
Against the spirit of gossip, Christian tradition, from the time of the Fathers of the desert, has always proposed self-accusation.
A solid attitude to be instilled in the religious is that of self-accusation, for its absence breeds partisanship and divisions.
The first thing to do is a reminder that self-accusation has nothing to do with prudishness. To accuse oneself is not puerile or, worse, pusillanimous. It is, on the contrary, an act of uncommon courage, which permits being seen beyond appearances. It is to renounce make-up and to let truth out.
At the basis of this attitude, there is a fundamental option: anti-individualism in favour of a family, leading first to become good children and brethren, then good parents. Self-accusation is a basic communitarian position.
The individualist temptation grows and leads to partialities and divisions in community life. It is always based on a truth, at times partial, apparent or even fallacious. Not always does the devil tempt with a lie. At the basis of a temptation, there may well be a truth, but livened with bad spirit. That is why an outlook ought to be judged always not by its content, but by the spirit that supports it, which is not precisely the spirit of truth. Usually, it is a reason that justifies and tranquilises, but based on the spirit of suspicion.
Suppositions and mistrust are liable to become real in the future: they are always a temptation. God is never in them, for He is the Lord of real time, of a verifiable past and of a discernible present. As to the future, He is the Lord of promises, who demands of us trust and abandonment.
The spirit of suspicion demands a truth that would insure myself against a brother: it will always be a truth in the defensive against community participation, that is one that justifies lack of participation in the life of a community.
The devil himself sows suspicion in the heart, without intent to divide. The devil wants to divide - by means of suspicion - to confuse afterwards.
The devil sows suspicion by means of fallacies, or with half-truths, so as to shield the heart in individualistic convictions, and later in a world shut off from all objectivity.
Suspicion, on being sown by the devil, configures in the heart a twisted rule, which in turn twists the rest of reality. It is not easy to think less of a religious heart tempted by a twisted rule. It is not a question of this or that idea, but of hermeneutics: any suggestion is interpreted crookedly, within the rule that is equally crooked.
This reminds us of St Teresa's observations: "…they treated me unreasonably", complex of some of her nuns, as the origin of many evils in religious life. The religious thus tempted becomes in time a collector of injustices, taking a continuous census of injustices suffered, true or imagined, and gets caught up in a spirituality of victim of a conspiracy.
The conspiracy theory, in sociology, is a weak one from the hermeneutic point of view. It is not easily supported, and does not stand serious criticism.
Side by side with such an attitude, there grows a state of anxiety, the fruit of bad spirit. Used to totally suspecting everything, they become less and less aware of the peace that accompanies trust in the Lord. They stick to the idea that the right solution to conflict must pass through the sleeve of their continuous control. They are constantly agitated by anxiety, the combined fruit of wrath and laziness.
They are the followers of Herod frightened (Matthew 2:3) and of the restless high priests and Pharisees who tried to put a stop to God's strength by sealing the sepulchre (Matthew 27:62-66). They quieten every fear with the powerful illusion of their own control, knowing nothing of the sweetness of the Lord, who reduces the power of His enemies by changing them into smouldering stumps:
"The heart of the king and the heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forests trembled in the wind…and Yahweh said: 'Take care, remain tranquil and do not fear; let not your courage fail before these two stumps of smouldering brands…'" (Is 7:2-4).
Hidden in the works of suspicion disguised as love for truth, there lies a refined seeking of pleasure. Behind ideas, there lurks a will. Suspicion and mistrust lead people to typical bitterness. And little by little, they draw away from truth, enlisting themselves under the banners of falsehood. Their capacity to condemn gets of out phase. And they do not know how to condemn well. They have not asked for the grace, recommended by St Ignatius, of knowing in order to abhor.