12/1/2014 11 Comments
Ghomeshi, the CBC’s Fifth Estate Interview, and Gossip versus the Oral Tradition
watched the Fifth Estate the other night. Chris Boyce, the Executive Director of CBC Radio was interviewed by Gillian Findlay about the Jian Ghomeshi matter. Like many I felt it was pretty good reporting but I think something was missed by the interviewer. This particular phenomenon is recurring, and while I am always quick to address it when I encounter it when talking with people, I have yet to write about it.
Regardless of what many may think, all peoples are well vested in the oral tradition, not just the people of Turtle Island. We all talk and listen to one another, we all tell and listen to stories, we all listen to the natural elements such as the wind and rain. This use of the oral tradition continues today. We all listen to the radio, television, and music. The oral tradition has a long history that predates written language and what is recorded in the books, journals, and archives stored in our personal, public, and national libraries.
In many ways it can be said the more important knowledge is the oral knowledge that circulates in our discussions that take place around the dinner table, our sidewalks, our coffee shops, and our places of work such as the lunch and board rooms. It is this oral knowledge that has not been “cleaned up” by higher powers and political agendas that houses many truths of who we are.
When people and a nation began to define knowledge in legal positivistic terms relegating it to the written word, an artifact, or a criminal conviction, they did the oral tradition and the truths contained a disservice. When a nation of people began to do this, define knowledge through these narrow parameters, they put many, in particular women and children, in harm’s way.
What really concerned me was the way the CBC executive responded when asked, and only after repeatedly being asked, if he knew of the Jian Ghomeshi abuse. His response was dismissive of the oral tradition stating “only through office gossip”. It was at this moment when the CBC executive spun very legitimate and valid oral knowledge into nothing worth listening to.
While gossip has an interesting etymology worthy of learning, in the contemporary context it is crucial that we understand that gossip refers to the process of intentionally undermining a person through spreading malicious untruths about them. Gossip is intended to harm and discredit good people. Both men and women engage in the practice of gossip. It is not something that only women do. As a matter of fact I have witnessed men engage in gossip as a mechanism to see who they can rely on in their larger goal of undermining another person and gain power over.
The knowledge sharing that takes place in our social spaces where we meet, such as coffee rooms and office hallways, is not gossip. It is the oral tradition. This particular CBC executive has been grossly misinformed about what is knowledge.
In a world where people abuse their power, and where women are unwilling to move forward with a complaint due to issues of power and the narrow interpretation of evidence and truth, it is even more crucial that the oral tradition not be dismissed as mere gossip. Employers, such as this CBC executive, must learn to value the oral tradition and act to protect their employees.
Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.
12/1/2014 10:37:39 am
That is something I have never thought of before; now that I think about it, I have noticed that any kind of allegations against abuse of women and children is belittled to mere "gossip."
12/1/2014 12:41:56 pm
There was much lacking in that interview and you've named an important one. I think the exec was left flailing in the wind since he certainly did not want to discredit the mothership and at the same time had a story to tell. I wonder about how social media can be seen as oral tradition as well. I haven't thought it through yet and there is certainly enough in social media that is dreadful, but that the women turned to media rather than report their assaults tells me that they were speaking out where they could be heard. none of the structures that are established to hear the stories of assault heard what the women were saying. Thanks for your analysis.
12/1/2014 07:40:32 pm
Thanks for this Lynn. I have long thought that too much communication is often lumped into "gossip".
12/1/2014 08:41:29 pm
Lynn, this is amazing!!! You've filled in a lot of the blanks for me. All my Life I've thought "gossip' is malaligned - just like anger is - but I wasn't able to think it thru or articulate why. IT IS ORAL TRADITION! I hope you send this to Ms. Findlay and Chris Boyle. I doubt they'll understand it tho' as they're so saturated in the way dominating culture dictates how to live and think. Even tho' I'm Anishinaabe, I was raised to be immersed in dominating cultural ideals and that's why I couldn't find my way out of believing how bad "gossip" is. Now GET IT, thanks to you. I'm starting to crawl out of that dark hole of ignorance taught to us, and starting to see the Light in this matter anyway. (Not ALL of it but certainly a substantial amount.) KICHI MIIKWECH!!! I'm going to pass this on to everyone I can think of.
12/1/2014 11:31:25 pm
12/2/2014 12:09:54 am
Gossip has destroyed many innocent people as well.
12/30/2014 05:42:05 pm
Speaking as one who's family used gossip to undermine me speaking out on my fathers violence towards my mother ( my half sister and brother said id accused him of abusing me) there is a huge gulf between gossip and the oral reporting of an event. If the event is against the law, that event should be investigated in exactly the same way as if the complaint was written down. Dismissing a report as gossip without investigation is lazy lawkeeping and what the child abusers and rapists have come to rely on from their fellow men.
12/31/2014 06:52:39 am
Yes it has - that the manipulative use of the oral tradition.
12/3/2014 10:47:31 am
Thank you so much for this, Lynn! It is so important to understand this distinction. Gossip can harm good people, while the oral tradition can help protect good people. And most importantly, protect the vulnerable. We must speak from the heart, with good intentions, and which impeccability. That way we will have a positive impact.
12/4/2014 09:51:51 pm
Your fine sharp analysis moves my understanding forward on the whole Jian Ghomeshi tangle. "Gossip" is so damaging spread freely on social media, defies our laws about innocent till proven in court, encourages the expression of general meanness, etc. Yet blowing the whistle on abuse, sharing our experience, is surely a useful and fair action. Renaming is a powerful tool for bringing about real change. We'll think more closely about an "oral tradition" report than if our first thought is "oh, gossip". It remains to be seen if malicious gossipers will be more thoughtful about their behavior if it's taken seriously as "oral tradition", pretty certain to be confronted.
12/31/2014 06:50:05 am
Thank you Rosemary. As stated people do gossip and this is harmful. But oral knowledge is not necessarily gossip. I see men gossip about women. And I see people with power dismissing valid knowledge with the term gossip.
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