There’s No God in Gossip

Today a guest poster takes on a topic of subtle importance.

There’s no God in gossip. I learn this at work, at home, among friends. Sometimes by positive reinforcement (I don’t gossip, and I feel better for it), sometimes by negative (I gossip, and I feel worse for it or confused by it). When I gossip, it’s because I want control. By pulling the information I want out of others and by doling out morsels as I see fit, I feel like a master spy orchestrating events to come to a conclusion of my devising. The reality is, in fact, humiliating.

You see, when I’m gossiping and trying to gain control, it’s usually of situation that doesn’t exist now and probably won’t ever. Or it’s of a situation I can never control. It’s all a fantasy world ordered by my ego, designed by my mind, and shaped by my fears. When I gossip, I am trying to dictate the flow of information to fill in the missing parts of the fantasy world in my head. Is this person my friend? Who is allied against me? What can I count on happening? What surprises lay in store for me? What’s the real scoop?

The sad part about it? I’m wasting all my creative energies by taking bad things that happened before (and maybe not even to me) and projecting them into the future. What if instead of gossiping and indulging these dark fantasies I simply applied my focus to the task at hand? My work. My marriage. My friendships. To helping others, in other words. That’s where the program tells me God is. Not in controlling.

In fact, gossiping can be harmful not only to me, but to others. Obviously, I’m wasting others’ time to begin with. But by gossiping, I’m yanking people out of reality and into my projections. I’m potentially filling them with misinformation that they might act upon or that might negatively impact their perception of another person or a situation. After all, slander is gossip’s frequent traveling companion. I’m sowing seeds of confusion or even enmity.

At its most reductive, when I’m gossiping, I am substituting gossip for God. I am not trusting and relying on God, I am trusting and relying on my smoke-filled back-room skills. Just like I substitute food for God when I’m eating compulsively. The hit from food doesn’t last very long. It’s a poor and short buzz. Gossip is little better. I want to know more and more, and I like the surge of power that comes from sharing it with furtive declarations such as “This has to stay between us….” But anything that gives me that surge is suspect. It’s always my self-centeredness trying to wrest control of me from my spiritually awakened self.

There can be a fine line between gathering necessary information and gossiping. Anyone who has worked in middle management knows that when you are trusted with the care of others’ professional lives, it’s important to know what changes may be coming or what tensions exist between departments. The question is how to know the difference between necessary discussion and gossip.

It seems that, for the most part, my intuition signals me. When I’m about to cross the line from legitimate water cooler talk to gossip, I tend to get a strong gut-level indication. A wincing of my conscience, perhaps. Sometimes I listen to that signal, sometimes I don’t. When I do, I feel freer. As I write, I realize that the best way to handle these situations is to enter them with God. If I ask for help and guidance before beginning to speak with someone, I stand a better chance of listening to that intuitive thought. If I listen to that thought, there’s no doubt I’ll have a better day.

In the end, the biggest of the big pictures is that God will help me no matter what the outcome of any situation. I can count on that, so the need to control doesn’t exist. Literally does not exist. It only seems real, but it’s a figment of my addict mind’s imagination. Just like the magical powers I give to food when I eat compulsively.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 9

9. OA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

Tradition 9 is kind of buried, and it seems like on of those boring things about how we set up shop. Yeah, yeah, so we can have an Intergroup and a World Service, isn’t that special…who wouldn’t have thought of that? But imagine if the opposite were true! What if tradition 9 said:

OA ought to be highly structured and hierarchical. Every local group’s mission is to serve the greater good as determined by OA’s leadership.

Imagine the clawing and ladder-climbing that would ensue as we control-freak OAs try to manage our way up the hierarchy. All so that we can show everyone the “right” way to run the program. Imagine the hurt and resentment, the bitterly contested power struggles. The hammers coming down all over the country on groups that didn’t run their meetings precisely as “OA’s leadership” told them to. The rebellions, factionalism, and anger. We’d last about as long as an Eskimo in the Amazon. If we were lucky.

With tradition 9, we are guaranteed freedom from…our own power driving, domineering, and the worst of our bright ideas. The truth about people like us is that we are in OA because we couldn’t run our own lives. Now we have to run OA? Like in most human endeavors, among our party are some who, if given a little taste of authority will unduly enjoy its exercise. Some of us are very good, indeed, at telling others what to do (and not necessarily doing, ourselves, what we say others ought to). We’re good at plotting and planning, and not so good at cooperating to get things done.

Tradition 9 gives us guidance about how to get things done locally and more broadly. We form service boards that report to those they serve. That’s right, in OA, the Intergroup is not the boss! The Intergroup is a collection of hopefully humble servants who act on behalf of its local meetings to carry the message in the broader community. Intergroups don’t make rules for meetings, because their job is to serve meetings. In some instances, that can mean challenging meetings that have gone astray of the traditions. In protecting the traditions, an intergroup protects the meeting too, because meetings that don’t mind the traditions often fail.

There’s an important feature of tradition 9 that deserves one final mention. In tradition 5, we are counseled that every OA group’s primary purpose is to carry the message and help other compulsive eaters. The ninth tradition enables individual meetings to focus on their primary purpose. If individual meetings were constantly trying to plan uncoordinated events, they would drown in the details, but an intergroup can support that sort of wide-reaching event more simply. Another example: Individual meetings pass money through the intergroup where it then disperses money across the service structure of OA. Can you imagine what a pain it would be if at each business meeting, a local group had to go through the treasury in that kind of detail?

OA works because it is not organized. There are no stars or VIPs that rise through a power structure to tell us all what to do. But being not organized isn’t the same as being disorganized, and tradition 9 facilitates getting the work of OA done without dissolving into chaos.

Step of the Month: Step 9

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Here’s a big question to ask ourselves about the ninth step. Do we sincerely wish to right the wrongs we have done others, or are we simply doing what we’re told? In some sense the answer doesn’t matter: We need to do this work in order to recover. If we do not make our amends, we are very likely to return to compulsive eating. In another sense, it matters quite a lot.

If we look closely at this question, it helps us gauge our spiritual condition. The Big Book tells us that we must enlarge our spiritual life…or else. It tells us that “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” It also tells us that becoming spiritual means deflating our ego through thought of others and action on their behalf. In other words, we are striving to be rid of selfishness and self-centeredness.

If we are doing amends because we are told to, we may be doing the right thing out of selfish motives. Are we attempting to recover only to escape the pit of sorrow and calamity? Or do we see how our recovery is a tool by which our Higher Power can help others like us escape from the doom of compulsive eating?

Making amends can give us deep, deep insight into our affliction, our solution, and our spiritual path.

  • We see how our disease affected others, and we have the singular chance to see it from their point of view.
  • We gain perspective on how the steps have changed us and develop greater motivation to continue living in the solution so that we do not bring more pain and suffering to those around us.
  • Equipped with a sense of other’s suffering as well as our own, we are now able to walk the road to recovery with others, sharing our newfound understandings as we guide them to a new, happier way of life.

But if we are simply checking off names on the list, we may miss these lessons. We may not, of course. We might well enter our amends with a selfish attitude and exit them with a selfless attitude because God can do that for us. But why stubbornly cling to the idea that are amends are merely something we have to do? There’s no upside in it.

Amends are sometimes easy. Sometimes they are very difficult and require vast courage. In every case, they require a reliance on our Higher Power to see us through with grace, dignity, and openness. If we approach them with humility, an honest desire to set right the wrongs of the past, and with the idea that we are doing spiritual work, we needn’t worry about the outcome. If it goes well, that’s great. If it doesn’t go well, we seek the counsel of God and our trusted friends and always, always remember to avoid doing anything to harm the other person. The question then is whether we will see each of our amends as bricks in our spiritual foundation or items on our OA honey-do list. The choice is ours.