“Peter and Ernie Gossip”. By Henry Regehr

Peter and Ernie don’t know each other; they belong, however, to the family of creative story tellers. Peter tells stories of his contemporaries as though on a mission. He sees it as his duty to describe the foibles of people in his cultural group in order to maintain the ethical standards of the community and to warn his acquaintances of the danger of stepping off the familiar and acceptable path. He is the community’s moral watchdog. Many of his stories, he recognizes, are colored by a highly active imagination and this makes the telling an entertaining event. He can talk about someone’s indiscretions with an enthusiasm that grips the full attention of a living room full of listeners. They are enthralled. However, they are uneasy. Something is not right here, they know. They have heard Peter tell his stories before and they know that they have been the subject of these themselves. They are afraid that it may very well happen again. And so, they listen with trepidation, squeamishness. And Peter goes on, fulfilling his mission as community conscience. 

Ernie, on the other hand, tells stories about his acquaintances purely for entertainment and for audience approval. Because his stories are told with laughter, with enthusiasm, he can gather a group of people around him at some community event and successfully get the undivided attention of his little audience, have them gaze up to him (he is a tall man) while he regales them of the exploits of someone that everybody knows, in dramatic style. The only thing that interrupts the story is the arrival of the subject of the story, at which point he gazes innocently about while his audience stands focused on his face waiting for the unwanted person to walk away. Invariably that happens, and Ernie can fluently continue his thrilling narrative.

Story telling is an art. Like condiments added to a bare hamburger or dry hotdog, colorful splashes of spices in bright hues must be added to the tedious facts. The condiments are the very personal contributions that come from the active inner life of the storyteller and, quite unknowingly, describe that inner story of which the teller is not fully aware. Ernie says that when he was a child, he was known only as the son of his famous father. After he got married, he goes on, he was known only as the husband of his popular wife. So, of course, he must tell stories that belittle other people and make him known for the entertainer he has become. He is remarkably skilled at his craft.  Peter, as moralist, tells stories with deadly seriousness. This is his calling. The fringe benefit is the power he has over his audience who fear what he can do to their reputations. It is a helpful substitute for his own sense of failure. His motives, he tells us, are pure.

They both win an Oscar for creative story telling. But they would benefit from regular meetings of a Gossip Anonymous group.

As could we all.

“Hi, my name is ……..,and I am a Gossip. I realize that I am powerless over my urge to gossip. I believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity….”.


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