Have you ever tried to tell a story without revealing any of the characters? Like,
“Last night I was out with some people and this person said that he…I mean, this person said that it might be better if I…Uhm…”
It gets complicated (and quickly reminds helpful pronouns are). But it’s a worthy endeavor. Lemme ‘splain.
Last night, a friend of mine, G, was giving me an update on his life. He was about to tell me a story of something sad that had happened, a situtation in which he had been hurt, and then I got called away to take care of something. So I told him, “G, I REALLY want to hear what’s going on, and I am sorry that you got hurt and I’d love to help you process, but while I am taking care of this, can you think about how you can tell the story without names or personal info, so that it cannot ever be thought as gossip or slander?”
Let me tell you that, just as you’d expect, the look in G’s eyes as I walked away to calm a baby (i was working in KidStuff) was not love and admiration. It was a little hurt, a little defense, and pretty much just what I’d look like if someone said that to me. I know what I’d be thinking,”What, you think I’m a gossip? You think I have a mean heart? Oh, you probably just don’t want to hear what I have to say”
Lucky for me, G is more mature than I am. He collected his thoughts, and when I returned, he told the story. It took longer and was harder to keep straight at first, since he didn’t use any names or even genders, but at the end of the story I knew what had happened to him and what God was teaching him through it, and had no ill will or judgment toward anyone else. (This is a BIG struggle for me. I can get very mama bear when people hurt the ones I love, not a gospel or loving reaction.)
I find that in the past, I’ve given myself far more liberality than wisdom in story telling. Especially if it’s a FUNNY story, I rarely take the time to format it in such a manner that I am protecting those involved. Sometimes it is inconsequential….
and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it really matters. Sometimes, I am not just telling a story, I am gossiping, slandering, sinning. And the fast that I mostly don’t mean to doesn’t change what it is.
I encourage you to try it out and see what happens. Try telling your stories in such a manner as to protect those involved, try asking the same of others. Just TRY it. And tell me what happens.