Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rumors You Can Trust

Rumors. The glue and dynamite of offices, family gatherings, sports fanatics, politicians, and yes, religious folks. Yesterday, I was told that perhaps someone who I work with won't be on the staff for too much longer. The specifics aren't important to mention here, only that the rumor got my inner injustice radar spinning quickly into righteousness. How dare they! If it happens, I'm going to quit on the spot! I won't work for such a place! And on and on it goes. These days, it doesn't take much for me to feel such things about my workplace. However, it's becoming all the more clearer how useless these little dramas are, and how they glue us together in skewed, unhealthy ways.

Searching for a definition of the word online, I found the extended one over at Wikipedia most interesting:

A rumor or rumour (see spelling differences), is often viewed as "an unverified account or explanation of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern" (33)[1] However, a review of the research on rumor conducted by Pendleton in 1998 found that research across sociology, psychology, and communication studies had widely varying definitions of rumor.[2] Thus, rumor is a concept that lacks a particular definition in the social sciences. But most theories agree that rumor involves some kind of a statement whose veracity is not quickly or ever confirmed. In addition, some scholars have identified rumor as a subset of propaganda, the latter another notoriously difficult concept to define.

Propaganda - yes, that makes sense to me as well. Think of the ways in which John McCain was smeared by rumors during the 2000 Presidential Campaign, or the myriad of ways in which current President Obama has been smeared by rumors over the past three years. Much of what was said about either man turned out to be false, and that which was true was spread solely as a way to scare people, or inflame people, so they wouldn't support the candidate. So, what's interesting here is that the account of something could be factual, but the explanation completely false or skewed.

For some reason, many years back, I became interested in sports rumors. Who's going to be traded to what team. Who might retire. What team might change coaches. All that kind of crap. Living in Minnesota over the past year, we've been inundated with rumors about the status of a Mr. Brett Favre, football Quarterback extraordinaire. Is he coming back? Is he retiring? Will the MN Vikings get another quarterback? It's an endless source of reportage for bored sports reporters who are trying keep the bucks coming in to their various news outlets. And for fans, it's an endless way to check out of the struggles of daily life, and live in an imaginary land of what if? for awhile.

I'm starting to think that part of the problem is that we don't know how to enjoy our lives anymore. Adults especially. We've bought into a story about being responsible, sacrificing every last dream so we can have a fancy vacation once a year and some "cool" toys to fritter away our free time with. Negative rumors of all sorts have replaced the beautiful dreaming and creating that can occur in the mind. In this age of 24 hour a day connectivity, where space "has to" be filled with some kind of information, most of us have chosen (without knowing probably) an existence glued together by patchwork lies and propaganda. It's an ugly thing to wake up to, and I'd bet that plenty of you out there can think of ways to defend your addictions to rumors and their kissing cousins gossip.

There seem to be a fair number of Buddhists, including myself, following the sexual abuse scandal unfolding within the Catholic Church. Certainly, there is much to learn from this, and definitely much injustice to be addressed. And yet, I'm guessing there is also some smug enjoyment of all the rumors floating about out there about Pope Benedict. In all honesty, I don't particularly like anything this Pope stands for. In fact, if a direct link between him and any of these abusing priests is verified, I hope he's removed from his "holy" office. The whole business of Popes I find tiring, and I firmly believe that they might be the complete undoing of the Church before it's all said and done. And yet, what good is it doing me, or anyone, to sit around indulging in juicy rumors about Mr. Ratzinger's alleged connections to, or pardons of, priest X or Y? How will speculating about the depths of his involvement change the very real problems of power and control going on within the Catholic Church?

When I look at my outrage about rumors at my workplace, it mostly boils down to a way to justify how lousy I feel about working there. That's it. I long ago gave up trying to do and say things that might "make the place more true to it's mission." And even though I care about my fellow teachers, and do what I can to support them, I mostly believe that it's like trying to patch a cracking dam with Elmer's glue: whatever I do, it's not gonna hold.

So, whenever a juicy rumor floats about, I can grab onto it as another reason for hating my job and workplace. It's a faux balm, sweet in the moment, and a slow seeping into the swamp afterward. This is the truth of all rumors, I think, and is probably why we bite so often and then suffer later as a result.


Richard Harrold said...

Right on Nathan! It's all part of Right Speech! We create dukkha through both our own speech (some teachers I've read say that we do the most damage to our kamma with our speech) and the attention we pay to the unskillful speech of others.

Unknown said...

Hi Nathan,

I had a quick question but want to ask in private.

If you get a chance could you email me at



Hope said...

I put up a link to this on my Facebook page. It's really worth the contemplation. Thank you.

Robyn said...

excellent post nathan!

Was Once said...

I warned of Mr. Ratzinger before he was pope in 1990, and few paid attention.

Anonymous said...

"And yet, I'm guessing there is also some smug enjoyment of all the rumors floating about out there about Pope Benedict."

I think you are right. And such smugness would be a terrible mistake. I doubt that any religious institution is entirely free from these sorts of vile goings-on.

Here in Bangkok, there are often reports in the newspaper of Buddhist monks who have been found involved in much the same kind of crime and cover-ups.

I don't know if the Thai Sangha is any better or worse than the Catholic Church at uncovering and dealing with these people, but I know it would be a mistake to (a) paint the entire institution with the same brush because of the actions of some, and (b) think that this is a problem that applies only to one particular religious organisation.

Thanks again for another thoughtful post.

Nathan said...

Yeah, I think power abuse issues are pretty easy to find in all spiritual traditions. I find the Catholic Church situation sickening for many reasons, especially because the hierarchy has such power, to the point of being recognized as a governmental entity by many nations. At the same time, I don't hold this against everyday Catholics, who are just trying to live their spiritual lives, and often have no say in any of the leadership stuff.