Monday, August 30, 2010

The latest news

What's the role of gossip? Fun? Destructive? A way for society to control people, for good or ill?

I recently spent a week at the folk dance camp for grownups where Jeff and I used to work. Jeff couldn't go, so I went alone. Now I'm back, after spending a week with our friends, and I wonder how much news to share.

It's a small community with tons of shifting relationships. Some of the news is quite benign, I think - who sat out late on the dock with whom, etc. But I wonder if I'm doing wrong to relay stories about people. Jewish law gets quite detailed about "evil speech" or lashon hara - it's forbidden to speak ill of other people except in very specific circumstances (e.g. if someone's going into a business deal with a person you know is a fraud.) But I've never seen a small community where everyone minds their own business.

I wonder how gossip interacts with marriage. A major reason I wanted to get married is that I wanted a structure supporting the relationship. I believe my life will be better in the long term if I stay with Jeff, even if there are periods when it's not fun. That's why I want society holding me to my promise. We could have just vowed fidelity to each other privately, but it further solidifies the vow when you say it in front of your family and friends and you wear a ring on your hand that means you're off limits to other people. Knowing that other people expect me to keep my promise makes it easier to keep.

So what happens when you watch someone who was apparently married two months ago, but who comes to camp minus his wedding ring and spends the week cuddling with someone who's not his wife? In a way, it's their own business, and I don't know the whole story. Maybe his wife left him, or they're in an open relationship and his ring just happened to fall down a drain.

But marriage is not just your business. If you want a relationship to dissolve easily and with no fuss, marriage is not your best option. You know people will whisper if you're visibly slipping, and shame is a powerful motivator. When you make your vow public, don't you invite your community to help you keep it?

2 comments:

Alex K-G said...

It's a good question. I think what you should do if his behavior troubles you is to ask his wife what's up. That holds him accountable in a private, direct manner, and in the probable event that everything's fine, clears your conscience too.

The trouble with non-traditional relationships is that people who aren't aware of their terms can think that promises are being broken when they witness suspicious behavior. So, if a relationship is non-exclusive or something, it's important to broadcast that openly to anyone who asks.

Julia Wise said...

I barely know this person, and I've never met his wife. It was more a general question about how communities should function than what I should do in particular. But thanks for writing.