sex, gossip and the important differences between words
He was telling me about his current, unsatisfactory sexual relationship with a coworker. He didn't begin by divulging her identity, he started by saying "I've been sleeping with this girl..." But, after a few minutes, he lowered his voice and said "It's Gwen." Suddenly, the picture sprang to life more clearly and I listened to the rest of the story with an almost embarassing movie-projection of the action in my head.
Things between Simba and Gwen have been less than ideal. They've been, in fact, absurd and comical and I listened to Simba with all my curiousity thumping full-throttle while I carefully ignored the caretaker who said "You know, Gwen probably wouldn't want this very graphic, very personal, very potentially humiliating information spread around." That little voice stayed quiet while the curious 13 year old said "Shut up! I'm trying to listen!" The 13 year old won.
Later, debriefing with SK, I was surprised to realize I felt like a lecherous asshole. I was embarassed and ashamed to admit that the 13 year old won out and the compassionate caretaker stayed quiet in the background. But, but, but... I'm a good person! I'm not going to spread it around! Simba didn't say any of it with cruelty or malice! I'm just *curious* for christ's sake, I just wanted to hear! I foolishly described myself as a voyeur. Bad move.
SK and I spent some time deconstructing the word "voyeur" -- for your edification, here's the definition from Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary:
Pronunciation: vwä-'y&r, voi-'&r
Etymology: French, literally, one who sees, from Middle French, from voir to see, from Latin vidEre -- more at WIT
1 : one obtaining sexual gratification from seeing sex organs and sexual acts; broadly : one who habitually seeks sexual stimulation by visual means
2 : a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous
Yuck to number one, because that's not what I was doing in that moment. Sadly, though, I might qualify under number two, except that I wasn't prying. That saves me. SK's astute observation was that the voyeur is trouble in part because the voyeur's passivity implies the absence of responsibility for something. The voyeur can sit back and watch something for her own gratification as though her presence is not relevant. I, for one, believe (and this is articulating this further than SK and I did last night, though I think she would probably agree) that the observer's presence is *always* relevant. The moment the observer begins to observe, she, in some way, becomes a part of the thing being observed. It's true in physics, I'm sure it's true in human interactions.
So to save myself from the creepy fate of the voyeur, it was reframed. What if I was an anthropologist? Merriam Webster didn't seem to have a definition for "antrhopologist," but they did have a definition for "anthropology" and here it is:
Etymology: New Latin anthropologistogia, from anthrop- + -logia -logy
1 : the science of human beings; especially : the study of human beings in relation to distribution, origin, classification, and relationship of races, physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture
2 : theology dealing with the origin, nature, and destiny of human beings
If I was listening to Simba as an anthropologist, something creepy disappears. Instead of standing by, exploiting the exposure of Gwen's supposedly private sex life for my own sexual gratification, I was listening to Simba like a scientist might listen to a subject -- I was gathering data to help me better understand people and relationships, etc.
Truthfully, though, as I write about it now, the distinction strikes me as bullshit. Either way, I'm exploiting someone else's private information for my own curiousity. As a responsible human being (voyeur, anthropologist, buddhist, process worker, whatever I might be in the moment) -- as a responsible *curious* human being, I might have acknowledged my role as an "observer" -- I might have asked Simba some questions about *my* role: why are you telling me this, who am I in this, how would Gwen feel if she knew about this conversation, etc, etc, etc.
SK is 100% right: gossip with awareness is the best way to gossip. No matter what spin I want to put on it to justify having my curiousity satisfied last night -- I did it all while ignoring the small voice that said, "this is kinda fucked up, you should say something." And regardless of Simba's feelings or Gwen's feelings, *I* am the one who ends up feeling a little creeped out when it's all over.