Questions via Email: Amends - Will telling someone I gossiped about them cause more harm?
Mr. Sponsor pants,
So I have a tendency to vent when things get frustrating at work and then feel as though I have gossiped and talked behind the person's back. Do I owe them an amends for that? Would bringing that up not bring more harm?
First, let's get everybody up to speed. For the new kids, here is the Step which deals with amends:
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Huh, ok. Pretty straightforward. But which "such people"? To get clear on that, we have to look at Step 8:
Step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Okay, so you're right on the money with your question and what the Steps suggest, B. You are wondering if you've caused harm, you're willing to make the amends if you have, but you're wary of causing more harm if you talk about what you've done.
Well certainly if you go up to Suzy Creamcheese and tell her that because she's always late with the Widgets Report you get frustrated, and then talk about it with Penelope down in Supplies and Acquisitions, you will cause harm to yourself. Since Suzy, even if she is gracious about it, will not look at you the same way, and the next time there's a deadline for a report on Widgits there will be a bit of a charge in the air, that's for sure.
Unfortunately, harm to ourselves is not a criteria we use to determine whether direct ammends are warranted. (And I wouldn't be the first alcoholic in recovery to sigh and murmur, "would that it were.") But of course it is the pain (embarrassment) we sometimes feel when making the direct amends which helps us to change our behavior in the future.
(And it is with chagrin I report that sometimes I have not done something because I have looked at the person I would have to make direct amends to and thought, "Oh, HELL no. I am not willing to make direct amends to that ... Great Spiritual Teacher of mine." Which is of course the punch line, since then they really are great spiritual teachers for me.)
But I want to say here that I agree with your concern. Even though it will make you look bad, it will potentially harm Ms. Creamcheese, since your admission will make the workplace less safe. And if you do determine that your amends includes talking to Suzy, then you need to leave Penelope out of it. The amends to Suzy would begin with "I'm sorry, but I have been gossiping about you." not "I'm sorry, but I have been gossiping about you with Penelope."
And an amends is hardly just a confession of sorts. Nor is it just an apology. It is a sincere attempt to make things right. To balance the scales. (Which sadly, does not mean you get to dish the dirt on Penelope and her most recent peccadillo with Mortimer over in Accounts Payable to Suze. That's not the kind of balancing the scales AA suggests.)
Whether you speak to the person you gossiped about or not, the real focus of this amends is about committing not to gossip anymore. We right a wrong and we change our behavior (hello Steps 6, 7 & 10).
There is an inherent free pass alcoholics love to give ourselves (all people do it, but we're Master Class at it) -- the logic goes like this: When I get frustrated, then I gossip. When I get scared, then I lie. When I feel neglected then I cheat. It's like we go from explanation of why something happens to pre-approval that, under certain conditions it's going to happen. (And is it crazy to suggest that then, at some level we create the condition which permits this behavior because we get something else out of doing it? No, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, no, I say it is not at all crazy to suggest that! >bangs hand upon the table< Sorry, I've been talking to a young woman at work about her reading assignment, "To Kill A Mocking Bird" and now we're all talking like lawyers in old movies as we work, so apparently its seeping into my writing. Just be glad you can't see me. The other day I declared it was Modern Dance Day at work, and everyone had to find a way to either point their toes or use jazz hands while they were helping Guests. Such is the way I fight drudgery and counteract mean customers and cutbacks in staffing levels. But as usual, I digress.)
I suspect that the amount of harm you may already have caused is dependant on the kind of gossip you indulged in. If you were just being a bitchy little weasel, dissing Ms. Creamcheese for her general lack of getting things to you on time (or whatever) then maybe not. But if what you were saying or whom you were saying it to could have a real, substantive impact on someone's future at work then that is something more serious, and you should give careful consideration to how to make that right.
It's hard to give you one clear suggestion without details to weigh potential harm against the context of what was said and to whom, and greater harm(s) which could follow; but you are right, I think some harm -- mental and emotional harm -- will come to the person you gossiped about if you tell them what you did (regularly do?).
The other thing about gossip in general -- and it's the thing people who gossip chronically never seem to realize -- is that you make the world (or work, or the AA meeting, or whatever) more hostile and less safe for yourself when you gossip, since when you feel vulnerable or are afraid or have to take a risk when saying something in a group it's all too easy to focus on the idea that people will talk -- and not in a nice way. It's real for you because you live in it. People who don't gossip are generally far less concerned about the idea that people might.
I guess the lesser known AA adage, "when in doubt, do nothing" might be the best course for the moment -- so long as that's not an excuse -- and only you can answer that by looking inside.
Regardless, in my experience it is these small, petty, mean-spirited behaviors which I can indulge in that thwart my ongoing spiritual growth -- and that's nothing to be dismissive about since the Big Book suggests -- and I believe -- that people drink because they fail to enlarge their spiritual lives -- and this is exactly the kind of behavior which works against that healthy growth. I suspect just from your brief email and your understanding of the Steps that you are in general a better person than this, that you have some genuine remorse and some real concern about this behavior. That's good. Armed with those things, willingness and some spiritual assistance you can absolutely make the right decision about this particular amends and also work to make a significant change in how you deal with the need to vent.
When the impulse to gossip comes up in me I try to remember the Eleanor Roosevelt quote: