There is no doubt about it, gossip is a two-edged sword that hurts both him who gives and him who receives it, unwittingly, of course. And women don’t have the monopoly on gossip, either!
I was given what I consider a supreme compliment one day by a friend whose opinions I respect very much. She told me that she had never heard me speak ill of another, that I seem able to accept people on their own terms. Frankly I had never thought of it in this way before but, after mulling it over, I knew that she had verbalized the essence of tolerance: a willingness to accept our fellow men and women as they are, not as we wish them to be, and this includes race, color, idiosyncrasies—every single thing that makes up the children of God.
Unfortunately there are intolerant folk in this world who die a thousand deaths in anger and frustration because they can’t swallow the fact that others will make it to heaven by a different route than their own. These people might be said to suffer from mental and moral indigestion. Then there are those who choke on a kind word to another person. These people can’t tolerate being bested, so they go through life withholding the word of encouragement or love so needed by another to help him or her over that one last hurdle of discouragement or lack of confidence.
Understanding is the cornerstone of acceptance, and in Christian reading and living we have this priceless key to understanding. Several years ago, after having been jabbed in my vulnerable pride once again by a well-intentioned but vocally uninhibited relative, I jotted down several rules to follow in my own relationship with others.
1. I WILL MIND MY OWN BUSINESS. This is the cardinal rule of tolerance. What we don’t know perhaps can’t hurt us, but what we do know can hurt others when we pass it on for the sake of some excitement. If someone confides in us it is our duty to treat his confidences as a sacred trust.
2. I WILL REMEMBER THAT I AM NOT INFALLIBLE. I cannot possibly be aware of all the motives and circumstances that cause a person to act as he does. Were I forced to wear the shoes of someone whom I am tempted to criticize or condemn, I might find the pinch even more unbearable than he does.
3. I WILL VALUE INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES. It would be a dreary world if we were all alike. There are people who want to go where the action is, and people who prefer to contemplate what the action is about. We need both kinds. We need people of differing tastes and abilities.
4. I WILL DO MY OWN THINKING AND FORM MY OWN OPINIONS. Too often our first impressions of people are colored by what we have heard about them, in all probability from prejudiced persons. We can’t always avoid hearing gossip, but we can refuse to be influenced by it.
All of this, I think, adds up to the willingness to accept people on their own terms. As for the ability to do so, that will depend on the strength of our best qualities: charity, tolerance, patience, thoughtfulness, sympathy, generosity, and probably several other virtues and their offshoots.
All these are needed, for “their terms” may not be our terms. And when we can say that this does not make anyone less estimable to us, less deserving to be loved, then we can truly say that we have learned to exercise acceptance of our fellow men and women.
Published in Healthways and Pen Woman