One evening, one of my co-workers came to me with a question. She was having trouble with someone she works with at another job. The individual was not showing up for work all the time, and her work ethic left something to be desired.
In a nutshell, my co-worker was wondering and asking: “Should I report it; should I not…I hate to tattle on somebody but don’t know what else to do.”
I brought up the option of first trying to approach the individual rather than going directly to the supervisor. I asked her if she could gently, sensitively approach her co-worker with her concerns. I mentioned she could also inform the woman that if things did not change, she would have to report her.
We also discussed the possibility of doing this in writing since it is often easier to get all one’s thoughts out clearly, and without interruption, in writing. Maybe this is a cowardly approach on my part, but some situations seem like some situations are easier to handle in writing.
Nonetheless, whether doing this in writing or verbally, approaching the person directly first if possible, before ‘tattling’ on them seems a good, charitable option for all of us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church actually has a section of relevance here in its section on the eighth commandment. It reminds us that :
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;279
– of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.
Actually, Canon law (220) makes it even a bit clearer:
- “No one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses.”
Is It Simply Gossip?
As workers in a care facility, we sometimes have to share information about residents with other staff. I find it to be an ongoing task to try to be charitable and respectful of our residents in discussions with my co-workers. I don’t want to indiscreetly say whatever I feel like; I need to be sensitive. Some things need to be said, but not necessarily everything. Also, I need to make sure to say things in a way that is respectful of the person’s name and their human dignity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us the fraternal love must always be a Christian’s guiding principle when deciding how much of the ‘truth’ should be revealed about another:
The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.
Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.
It seems that society at large could use a little more concern for the reputation and good name of others. How often do people, thoughtlessly, make derogatory comments about their neighbor?
If we want to love our neighbor as ourselves as Christ commanded, maybe each of us should be more careful in what we say. Before we flippantly gossip about someone, it would be good to stop and think: “Would I like to have that said about me?”