There have been recent incidents both at TOTJO and in my own life that have brought up the topic of idle gossip. Because we have seen all too well the inherent problems with people taking words the wrong way, let me begin by stating that this sermon is not directed at anyone in particular but is intended as a general observation and suggestion. :)
So why do we gossip? It seems to be an intrinsic part of society that there is a desire to be kept informed about all of the details of other people's lives, no matter how seemingly insignificant. In tribal times, this need for knowledge was most likely crucial to the safety of the community – knowing about possible threats or disruptions would allow such things to be resolved swiftly. But has today's world evolved beyond that need?
One extrapolation is the Big Brother style of scrutiny that invades our everyday lives. We are filmed on CCTV, have our library records examined, details are kept about our movements and activities. Those who pose more of a “danger” to society are more closely monitored. This reflects that need for security but taken to an extreme. Is it worth losing some of our personal freedoms in order to feel more “safe”? A few years ago I wrote a sermon about the restrictions placed on us by society and our faith so I won't go into more detail now. If you are interested, the previous sermon can be found here: http://www.templeofthejediorder.org/forum/Weekly-Sermons-and-Live-Services/33300-WEEKLY-SERMON---20th-Sept-2010#33300
So that is just one extrapolation of that “need to know”. Where does gossip come into it? There is a proliferation of TV shows and media publications that pander to, and exacerbate, this desire. Reality TV gives us tantalising glimpses into the lives of others, shows such as Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle offer us questionable entertainment by parading the lurid details of other people's problems in front of live studio audiences who are encouraged to whoop, boo or scream at those placed before them. How far have we moved on from the days of Ancient Rome and the tearing of human bodies by gladiators and wild animals, all to satisfy a baying, blood-thirsty crowd?
Idle gossip doesn't always have to be correct to be passed on. In fact, the more outrageous the better, it seems! Newspapers are sold on the juicy offerings of a politician's affair, neighbourhoods are scandalised by what goes on in their neighbours' bedrooms. Like a game of “chinese whispers”, accuracy gets lost in the increasingly salacious additions and alterations.
So how do we protect ourselves against this onslaught? How do we stop ourselves from being caught up in the tide of overwhelming finger-pointing? As Jedi we aim to be mindful of our thoughts, words and actions. This means training yourself to consider the implications of everything you say. It is somewhat easier to do on a forum such as this because you have the chance to read a post before making it public, thus enabling you to reflect on the possible effects. But how many actually do that as opposed to just “posting and be damned”!
It may also be worth spending a bit of time in research, trying to find out if something is true before passing it on. If it involves someone that you know of, try asking them first. If it's something more general, do your best to figure it out. In this respect, Google (other search engines are available...) and your own common sense and reasoning are your friends.
As an example, Facebook is constantly littered by “inspirational” or poignant posts whose origin may be suspect. Pictures of an indigenous chief performing a ritualised welcome by crying are falsely attached to stories about the building of a dam. A letter questioning why fundamental Christians choose certain aspects of the Old Testament to justify their discrimination while ignoring others are falsely attached to media personalities. The simple messages and the moral lessons are being altered to suit the medium through which they travel fastest. If you get sent a story that seems too poignant or outrageous to be true, a couple of minutes searching the web will help you to find out the truth and responding to personal gossip should also involve such a task. During the Second World War, a series of UK posters were produced to prevent people from spreading information through idle conversation that could be overheard. The slogan was “careless talk costs lives”. Perhaps the relevant version for today would be “careless talk costs reputations” and it can be a long and painful journey to remove such false claims.
This can all be prevented by thinking before passing on information, no matter how tempting! Consider the Jedi Tenets of knowledge, focus and wisdom: gain knowledge through diligent research or by asking those who were actually involved; focus on the intent of the situation and not allow yourself to be distracted by tempting trivia; and gain wisdom as a result, either through a deeper and more correct understanding of what went on, or by seeing the errors in the original information and perhaps realising what terrible consequences could have occurred if such falsehoods were to be repeated.
People's lives and reputations may be at stake and these are not things to be trifled with, whether we know those people or not. Name any celebrity and I'm sure you could recount several choice details about them that wouldn't be out of place in certain fame-centred magazines. Whether those details are true or not is another thing entirely – that which is remembered is sometimes all that matters.
Here's a cartoon reminder of why we should avoid gossip and rumours:
So when hearsay and rumours next come your way, consider the place that you yourself have in the information that is being passed to you. Does it concern you? It is any of your business? Are you casting judgments on another person's character because of what you heard? And do you have any right to pass on those judgments without clarifying if they are based on fact? You become a part of the “grapevine” - altering the facts and adding colourful and personal details yourself, in the words that you use and the way that you say them.
As well as the optional advice in the Vows of Respect, of Contemplation and of Restraint (http://www.templeofthejediorder.org/forum/Training--Library/26337-Additional-Training-Materials#26337 ), here are some words of guidance from our own Doctrine and the Basic Teachings of Jediism:
As Jedi, we are mindful of our thoughts... we focus our thoughts on the positive. The positive energy of the force is healthy for the mind, body and spirit.
Jedi protect the peace. We are warriors of peace, and are not ones to use force to resolve a conflict; it is through peace, understanding and harmony that conflicts resolve.
We as Jedi believe that love and compassion are central to our lives. We must love each other as we love ourselves; by doing this, we envelope all life in the positive energy of the Force.
Jedi are guardians of peace and justice. We believe in finding peaceful solutions to problems, gifted as we are we remain negotiators of the utmost ability. We never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate. We embrace justice, protecting and preserving the fundamental rights of all living creatures. Empathy and compassion are vital to us; it allows us to comprehend the wounds caused by injustice.