Doubt: Gossip

I recently had the pleasure of watching Doubt, the Oscar winning film, staring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

It is the story about Father Brendan Flynn and Sister Aloysius Beauvier. The Sister believes the father is guilty of something terrible and she is trying to convince the other in the church . The Problem is, there is no proof that he committed a crime, only circumstantial evidence. But she is certain of his guilt, despite the lack of proof. It’s a strong story, and the director left up to the audience to draw their own conclusions.

One of the best scenes in the film is when Father Flynn gives a sermon on Gossip:

A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she 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 at 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 the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?”

“Yes!” Father O’Rourke answered her. “Yes, you ignorant, badly brought-up female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have 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 up on 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 the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. “Did you gut the pillow with the knife?” he says.”Yes, Father.” “And what was the result?” “Feathers,” she said. A world of feathers.

“Feathers?” he repeated. “Feathers everywhere, Father!”

“Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on 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!”

The acting is spot on. Philip Seymour Hoffman, really shines in this role. Streep, plays the part of a paranoid spiteful nun perfectly. Amy Adams is also a good pick for the young nun who doesn’t know what to believe, and wishes everyone could resolve the issues peacefully.

The greatest asset of this film is that it really makes you think. This man’s reputation was destroyed because one woman accused him of something awful, without proof. She is so sure that she knows what she is talking about. But by half way through the film, you have to wonder if she has the slightest idea what she’s doing at all when it is clear she is ready to ruin any relationship in their circle without pause to consider the consequences for those not directly involved.

You don’t hate the Sister so much as feel bad for her for the way she handles the situation. Everyone in the church is on edge, unsure what to believe. However, he may very well be exactly what she thought, but that does not make it alright to spread rumors and opinions as fact. Because of this, the Father has no options available, he is ruined.

I have to repeat that: Regardless of your personal feelings towards someone else, no one should present third party information, otherwise know as rumors, and personal opinions, as facts. There is a words for that. “Libel” and “Slander”. Otherwise known as Defamation.

I had to do some research or this on this thought provoking concept. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

In law, defamation (also called calumny, libel (for written publications), slander (for spoken word), and vilification) is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government or nation a negative image.

This could be a lesson to some. In Doubt, Sister Aloysius, got her way when the Father left the church that he so passionately wanted to help, all because his reputation had been hurt beyond repair, by slander.

But it came together nicely in the closing scene, when the sister breaks down and cries uncontrollably on the shoulder of another nun. The truth in her heart is revealed. She see that she really wasn’t sure about anything, and she destroyed an innocent man, and left the the relationships, and trust, of everyone else in ruin.

Gossip. Slander. Libel. DEFAMATION.

When a person lets their personal feelings and opinions get in the way of what is the right thing to do, and if a person becomes blinded by anger, they may mistakenly say something they will regret.

An accusation that someone is committing a crime. As an example, if it was said, “I know this person is a criminal” instead of “I personally think this person is a criminal” and you have no evidence what so ever that the the statement you are portraying as fact, is based in truth…

Well then, you crossed the line from “harmless gossip” to something else. Something much, much worse. And if that thing that you say, either in written text, or spoken word, does in fact turn out to be a lie or false, then it is you who have really become the criminal.

Just like in the sermon that Father gave… it’s too late to put the feathers back in the pillow.

What do you think?


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