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“Ask a Priest: Is it wrong to share why someone angered me?”
Q: I am confused. If someone does something to anger me, and I share with other people why I am angry, is this gossip? I guess I would want others to understand why I am angry, but not be angry themselves. Again, is this gossip? I’m not trying to hurt the person I’m angry with — just sharing. -L.V.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: “Sharing” is a word that has taken on a lot of meanings in our day. Sharing a tuna salad sandwich could be an act of charity. Sharing a negative story about someone could be a fault against justice.
A lot depends on what you are passing on and to whom. A wife who complains to her husband about their 6-year-old son’s misbehavior is justified (so long as she keeps her ire in check), because a dad has a right to know what his child is doing.
In the wider world, however, things easily get more complicated. In a section labeled “Offenses Against Truth,” the Catechism, in No. 2477 says:
“Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty: — of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor; — of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them; — of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.”
In the case of “sharing” why someone made us angry, we run the risk of judging rashly if, say, we attribute a moral fault to an action that really didn’t carry culpability.
For instance, imagine that Joe introduces a visiting cousin to his next door neighbor. The neighbor barely greets the cousin. Joe then complains to this wife about the rudeness of the neighbor. Joe is attributing a moral fault to the neighbor based on a brief encounter. It might turn out, however, that the neighbor a few minutes earlier had received news of a death in the family and was secretly grieving when he met Joe and the cousin. The neighbor never intended to be rude — his mind was focused on the death of the loved one. The neighbor in fact is the victim of a rash judgment.
Another kind of fault — all too common, unfortunately — is detraction. It is one thing to say something that is true. But that doesn’t mean we have the right to tell the “truth” about someone to everyone we meet. Tom might have been arrested for drunken driving on Friday night, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to spread that news at work on Monday morning. Not everyone has to be told the faults of everyone else.
So before “sharing” stories, you might consider a few things.
First, does the person you are talking to have a right to hear your story?
Second, is it better at times to suffer things in silence and offer them up for the salvation of others? This is a great way of giving meaning to the slights and difficulties we face day to day. It is a way to unite our crosses with the cross of Christ.
Third, if you do “share” something, is there a way to do it without naming names or without judging the motives of others? Experience teaches that if you give someone the benefit of the doubt, you will probably be correct more often than not.
Fourth, when you feel a need to vent, emotionally, do so with someone close to you, who understands you and who is trustworthy, and speak about your feelings and how they are affecting you, without blaming others for those feelings.
I pray that you always make it a priority to share your faith. God bless.