I’ve never been a whiz at making small talk. Give me something meaty to talk about like the elusiveness of peace in the Middle East or the prospect of an economic turnaround in the next year, and I usually have something to say. My fallback for making small talk is to ask people obvious questions like, “How’s work been going?” That’s the question I recently pitched to an acquaintance, who stammered out the answer that she had just quit her job. Not wanting to probe, I said something stupid like, “Well, I’m sure something better will come along soon.” (Keep in mind that I made this remark despite knowing how high the unemployment rate in my state was.) My awkward comment was followed by an even more awkward silence.
A few days later I mentioned this woman’s situation to a mutual friend. The friend replied that she knew exactly what had happened . . . but she wasn’t at liberty to tell me. From the tone of her voice, I knew there were juicy details.
Remember those old cartoons depicting a devil squatting on one shoulder while an angel is sitting on the other? For a split second the little devil on my shoulder whispered in my ear: “If you knew more about what was going on, I’m sure you could pray for her better.” But then the angel on my other shoulder replied, “Oh, sure. That’s the only reason you want all the gory details, so you can pray better! Now I’ve heard everything.”
Fortunately my “skeptical angel” prevailed and I kept quiet, resisting the temptation to probe. I already knew everything I needed to know in order to pray for the woman who had left or lost her job. I could leave the gory details where they belonged, between her and the Lord.
Sometimes peace comes from knowing less than you would like to. Knowing less about office politics can help you stay focused on your job. Knowing less about the failings of others can keep you from judging them. Listening to gossip may offer its share of momentary pleasures, but it will not bring you peace, nor will it help you become a peacemaker.