Saturday, November 26, 2011

Common Denominators - Gossip

I heard someone describe her experience when very new to Al-Anon: after the meeting, she'd been standing in a group talking, and when she had a chance, had interjected some gossipy comments about  people in the group who'd already gone home. She'd expected the others to respond in kind, but there had been first a short silence, then one member started speaking about a major event which had taken place in his life recently, and the conversation proceeded. Until she got a sponsor, no-one had ever actually taken her aside and told her not to gossip. But she learned very quickly to feel the discomfort of the others in the group, and that is what stopped her from continuing this behavior - she didn't like being the cause of the discomfort.

No-one shamed her for it, no-one even laid down a boundary - which she freely admitted she would have trespassed, because of her character defect of defiance. She learned by example. She learned that no matter what, the members of her Al-Anon group would not gossip with her. She made us all laugh describing her astonishment that "these wierdos in this wierdo program" were all so nice -to one another, and to her.
From: "3 Obstacles To Success in Al-Anon,"

"Gossip. We meet to help ourselves and others to learn and use the Al-Anon philosophy. In such groups gossip can have no part. We do not discuss members or others, and particularly not the alcoholic; our dedication to anonymity gives people confidence in Al-Anon. Careless repeating of matters heard at meetings can defeat the very purpose for which we are joined together."

(Reminds me of an old AA guy who called Al-Anon "Our Ladies Of Perpetual Resentment." He'd coined that term when new to AA, and convinced that his wife sat around in her Al-Anon meeting telling terrible stories about him. His friend cut in with, "She had to, Al, it's an honest program.")

 I couldn't see the harm in gossip, when I was new to our fellowship - why did they fuss so much about interesting conversation? Then when I did begin to grasp the reasoning behind the no gossip or criticism suggestion - in order for us all to feel safe, we need to show each other special kindness and consideration - I would feel uncomfortable when listening to gossip, but had no way to set a boundary. I've learned to temper my response to the person - with newer members, I aim for the gentlest of explanations - with those who've been in program for a few years, I'm more direct.

I can't change other people. I can't make them stop gossiping, but I don't have to provide an audience. That's my part, to remove my ears from the equation, and make a "door and a bar" for my mouth. I'm much more content, and feel safer in the world, when I am as loving as I am able.


  1. I love Tradition 11... attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity... Thank you for the post. I also step away from Gossip if it occurs in our group. I've been able to also apply that "step away" action at my work place, it is much more peaceful. :)

  2. Learning to keep the focus on myself also helps when I begin to feel the need to gossip. Practicing this "no gossip" in program carries into my life. My family triangulates gossiping about one another, I am making a point to stay out of the mess. Let it begin with me.

  3. I so agree about the gossip. I know that one of the meetings I used to attend was ruled by gossipers. I decided that I did not want to go there anymore because it appeared that nothing would change. It hasn't. Al-Anon must be a safe place--for all of us.

  4. Recently, I moved from a major city to the small town and found the speed of travel of gossip to accelerate. It was a shock to watch how fear drove so much of the distorted stories that I find little value in the off-focus activity. Smaller communities seem to adhere less to traditions, as longer term members find support outside of meeting, often with each other, but not among the al-anon group. Suggesting application of traditions is met with ridicule. Just my experience...