Most of us do a lot of talking, much of it about other people. Some of our people talk is just practical: “Are you still working on those invoices? Joe’s been waiting for them all morning!” Some of it is pretty personal: “Hey, I heard Joe’s wife walked out on him. Couldn’t take his drinking anymore.”
The most obvious moral guideline for talking about others—one that we all want to impress on our children—is the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” But is “telling the truth” our only standard? So long as something is true, is it all right to say it?
Consider this conversation, called up from my mental archive of family life—I won’t say whose. It began with a discussion of Aunt Debby, whose chronic inability to make wise decisions about men has produced a real-life soap opera way more interesting than anything on TV. Then the family segued into an analysis of the pastor’s most recent homily. It was weighed and found wanting. With tut-tuts of disapproval came reports on a friend’s dysfunctional relationship with his teenage daughter. Finally, the conversational virtuosi lightened up their heavy deliberations with some surgically…
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