A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this. That night, she had a dream: a great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’ Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. ‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that God All Mighty’s hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?’ ‘Yes,’ Father O’ Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have blamed false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.’ So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness. ‘Not so fast,’ says O’ Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.’ So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. ‘Did you cut the pillow with a knife?’ he says. ‘Yes, Father.’ ‘And what were the results?’ ‘Feathers,’ she said. ‘Feathers?’ he repeated. ‘Feathers; everywhere, Father.’ ‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’ ‘And that,’ said Father O’ Rourke, ‘is gossip!’” as said in a sermon by Father Brendan Flynn (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) in the movie Doubt.
Today my coworkers were gossiping, again. Don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect. I am still human, and I sin including gossip. But hearing what negative things they were saying about a person made me think of the movie Doubt.
Doubt is set in the New York/New Jersey area around Christmas time. It is a deep movie reflecting on the racial tensions, sexual repression, authority issues, and misinterpretations of 1950s America. The main story is about Father Flynn’s possible homosexual misconduct towards his African American student, Donald. A few themes that surface in these interactions between the two are favoritism, jealously, shame, guilt, and discerning God’s will. Donald is the sole African-American at an all-white school and has a troubled home life, with his alcoholic father and meek mother. He is obviously different than the other children in his classes, and Father Flynn immediately takes him under his wing and acts as his mentor. The man openly shows borderline inappropriate affection for Donald and quite often comes to his rescue in sticky situations.
The head nun, played by Meryl Streep, notices this behavior and begins to question what she has seen. She quickly raises suspicions in another nun, played by Amy Adams. One night over dinner in the nun’s quarters, the accusations begin.
As the movie progresses, we begin to question our own beliefs, torn between both sides of the events that unfold. You start to ask yourself, are people really good at heart and just make simple mistakes? Or are people capable of willingly committing evil acts against their fellow human being without remorse?
As the movie reaches its emotional peak, more and more questions are raised. What is sin? How much temptation is too much before you eventually give into it? Whose fault is it when behaviors are misunderstood? What is the truth and is it really out there? What exactly is justice? Is justice from a divine source or a human source? And most importantly, how do we practice compassion, love, mercy, acceptance, and forgiveness towards ourselves and others?
The ending of the movie leaves you in a somber silent reflective mood, perfect for the winter months, in my opinion. As the stunning twist at the end finally unfolds, you are left watching the credits in a coma of disbelief.
While the example of my coworkers isn’t as dramatic as a priest’s sexual misconduct in the church, gossip is still a very dangerous weapon. It can do far more damage than we anticipate; once the words are said, they may never be taken back.
With my coworkers I can only choose not to listen to their words. I still have to function as part of a team in order for my company to succeed. I choose to show compassion to my fellow sinner. I challenge the reader to watch this movie and decide for yourself. Which side do you choose: justice or compassion?