THERE'S BEEN a long-standing saying
that the articles in each Issue of the Grapevine make
up an AA meeting in print. A few days ago, I gave this
idea a new twist. I needed a few suggestions for an
article about gossip. So I went to my regular closed
meeting and waited like a vulture until the moderator
made the routine request for a meeting topic.
"How about gossip?" I said.
He looked surprised. (Usually, there's no such response
to a suggestion.) "I'd like to write an article
about gossip, and I'd be interested in what the group
has to say on the subject." I took out my note
cards and ballpoint pen.
The moderator looked about the table
at the twenty-seven persons present. There were no objections,
so he shrugged and said, "Well, okay, it's gossip.
Since you suggested the topic, why don't you start the
Now it was my turn to be surprised.
I scrambled for a thought, and then began to explain
that indulgence in excessive gossip had been one of
my major shortcomings for many years.
The character of the problem changed
with sobriety and time. While drinking, I often gossiped
in a careless and somewhat vicious manner. In AA, the
tendency to talk about others evolved into a more subtle
form of gossip. I would preface my comments by explaining
that I did not want to take a person's inventory, but
was trying only to understand him! I eventually began
to realize that this disclaimer was a shameful and shallow
device, and I then took some giant steps forward in
my conquest of the gossip problem. This produced a pleasant
fringe benefit. I noticed that my fear of being gossiped
about lessened when I drew away from active participation
Having thus informed the group that
I was nearing sainthood, I turned the discussion back
to the moderator. He nodded to another member, who chewed
over the topic for a moment and then explained that
he thought there were two kinds of gossip: harmless,
idle gossip, and malicious gossip that is intended to
Now here was an idea we could use. It
is true that a lot of the chatter we indulge in is fairly
harmless. On the other hand, even gossip of the harmless
variety is usually sprinkled with little barbs and insinuations.
It is also a waste of time. But I can agree that it's
one thing to talk idly about a person, and it's quite
another to repeat deadly and vicious things that can
result in lasting harm.
The discussion moved to an older member.
He surprised me by saying that he didn't think gossip
was a proper subject for an AA meeting. He explained
that we were at the meeting to learn ways of staying
off the sauce, and not to discuss ways of attaining
purity of behavior.
With that, the meeting really began
heating up. One member disagreed, pointing out that
gossip is related to inventory and character shortcomings.
It was also noted that the AA program directly focuses
on such problems as personal wrongs and harming others.
It was asserted that gossip is a character defect related
to alcoholism, and the overcoming of it is certainly
a requirement for the better life that all of us are
seeking. Beyond that, gossip also can be harmful to
AA group unity. More than one AA group has been split
apart at the seams because members spread vicious stories
about one another. Also, individual members have been
driven from groups because they were talked about.
Our moderator supported this last statement.
He told about a woman alcoholic who also had another
problem. She came to AA seeking help for her drinking
problem, but soon found herself being rejected and ridiculed
because of the other matter. Confused and hurt, she
Well, was that the real reason she left,
or was it only an excuse? We never can answer such a
question. But we do have a moral obligation to create
a welcoming atmosphere for any alcoholic, including
those whose private lives are different from our own.
Gossip certainly chills the atmosphere, and perhaps
sets up bad vibrations which cause people to dislike
certain groups. "I know that I need AA in order
to maintain my sobriety," a member said. "But
I do not need to be talked about or ridiculed. I found
enough of that long before I came to AA."
As the meeting progressed, it became
obvious that several members still disapproved of the
topic. Somebody pointed out that one lady was attending
her first meeting and could very well be confused by
the subject. Why didn't we get back to the problem of
That ended my first (and probably last)
effort to enlist the help of an AA group in the preparation
of an article for the Grapevine. But we learn something
even from our failures. For some reason, certain subjects
don't work well at AA meetings, I have noticed, for
example, that few AA groups are able to participate
in a mature discussion of sex problems; either it deteriorates
into a nervous joke session or the subject is quickly
changed. Gossip seems to be another subject difficult
to handle. But perhaps I made a mistake in announcing
that I wanted to take notes!
Even if it is true that groups have
trouble discussing this problem area, any member may
treat gossip as his personal problem and use the AA
principles as ways of overcoming it. The AA program
led me to realize that gossip was morally wrong. I could
often tell that there was something wrong in the things
I said about other people, because of the guilt and
discomfort I later felt. Since gossiping did produce
guilt and discomfort, why did I do it?
I believe that gossip was an attempt
to build myself up at the expense of others. I have
not seen any proof to support this view, but I suspect
that a person's love of gossip is inversely proportional
to his own self-esteem and sense of security. In other
words, the more inadequate I feel, the more I need to
belittle others and tear them down.
The same motive also may account for
the cruel things that are said about prominent people
and others who have been more successful than the rest
of us. A great many magazines and books are devoted
to vicious criticisms of celebrities and various professional
and political groups. I no longer find it useful to
read such material, though I once gorged on it. I consider
it only tragic that the world reels and staggers from
human weaknesses, and there are few faults I could read
about that I do not possess myself.
Another of my unproven beliefs is that
AA members do not, as a rule, employ vicious and cutting
forms of gossip. The worst I have heard, for the most
part, are comments such as "He can't get honest
with himself" or "He still thinks he's a social
drinker" or "He has problems other than alcohol."
And I have never heard AAs indulge in real gossip during
a meeting without its being challenged. It is probably
well understood that this kind of thing is a betrayal
of the AA principles. When members talk about other
people, they do it after the meetings and usually outside
the meeting room.
Before we changed the subject to the
direct problems of staying sober, fellow members of
my group gave me a couple of additional thoughts. One
member said that if we want to find out some things
about ourselves, we should listen carefully to what
we are saying about other people. (A wonderful thought,
and sounds advice. I am quite sure that my juiciest
gossip has always been about the traits that cause me
the most anxiety within myself, and I will now try to
listen more carefully to my own words.)
A lady member offered another rule to
follow if we do find it necessary to discuss other members:
"When you have told me their names, do not tell
me their faults." Or to put it another way, if
you discuss a person's faults, do not give away information
that will reveal his identity. Better yet, limit your
faultfinding to one individual--yourself. This is the
only kind of gossip that will ever pay dividends in
self-improvement and peace of mind.