I once read of a study that claimed Catholics were less likely to seek the help of psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, ostensibly because they had regular access to the confessional and could unload there. I sense that this outlet has been getting less action in recent years. The Catholic Mass – among several other religious traditions – routinely offers a group confession, so you can mumble about your transgressions under your breath and don’t have to hem, haw and blurt them out to another human.
Many years ago, mother told me that on one occasion when she was in the confessional as a young girl, she hunted her conscience diligently to find some little misdeed she could own up to so as not to waste her time and the priest’s. The priest tried a gentle prompt, “Have you taken the Lord’s name in vain?”
“No,” she replied. “But my poppy does all the time!”
The priest sternly reminded her she was there to confess her own sins, and not her father’s.
This is a new age, though. The need to confess hasn’t gone away; it’s now played out in public, and we feel obligated to reveal not only our own transgressions, but those of others!
My wife and I helped to form an outdoor camping and hiking group some years ago. One evening around the campfire, someone (probably after a couple of beers) complained that a Significant Other (SO) had done them dirt. That broke the dam and started a round-the-fire-circle of “She/He done me wrong” stories. Almost everyone had one or the other of these. Many had several.
Fast forward a few years and our large family clan is sitting around a dining room table after rain had washed out the deck party. Someone (probably after a couple of beers) complained a SO had dumped them. That started a round table of stories by dumpers and dumpees about times in their lives when they went through one or the other of these traumas. I had myself been dumped three times in my earlier years. My wife looked at me with narrowed eyes, and said, “Hmmm…I only knew of two of those…”
Well, I wasn’t going to stir anything up from the bottom of that pot. I told her I could give her the details later, and prayed she would forget about the remark. Silly me, as it turned out – but that’s another story.
All of these episodes got me thinking, though, and I saw the appeal of airing these things in public. If you have been the wrong doer or the dumper, you have to assuage your guilt or make a legitimate case for unhooking. If you have been done wrong or been the dumpee, you have to establish your undeserved treatment and certify your innocence.
That was a more innocent time. Nowadays, many can’t go public enough for their vents. When my wife and I check out our groceries at the supermarket, I scan the tabloid covers and bring her up to date on the latest. “Kim confesses…,” “Justin reveals…,” “Katy accuses…”
Some people, in fact, invite this. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s daughter, told her friends, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me!”
Facebook has augmented and amplified the old campfire and dining room circles and tabloids as the go-to place for sharing your grievances, admitting your wrongdoings and complaining about your treatment at the hands of others. Some of the revelations are fantastic; but why? Why on earth would you want to air this stuff to complete strangers? Even if the complaints are legit, they can’t possibly function as anything more than voyeuristic entertainment to those not closest enough to you to have first hand knowledge of the facts. You’d be better off hunting up old Father Michael if he were still around, and schedule some confessional time. You’re shoveling out Too Much Information, folks, to titillate and amuse other folks who have no inclination at all to empathize or help.
It reminds me of the story of the country preacher who was soliciting confessions of sinful behaviors from his congregation. A young lad of 8 or 10 stepped forward.
“I used some bad words I heard from my uncle,” he said.
“Ah, that’s truly shameful, boy. How else have you soiled your mind?”
“I seen some dirty magazines,” he said.
“Oh!” said the preacher. “The devil is at work here! Tell it, son!”
“And…and…Susie and I played doctor down behind the barn…”
The preacher, sensing that he was homing in on real pay dirt, pressed forward. “Tell it all, son! Tell it all!”
“Well, once,” said the boy, “I screwed a chicken.”
The preacher groaned. “I wouldn’t have told that, boy…”
“Spill Your Guts” is excerpted from Chuck Thurston’s latest book – Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader – to be published later this year.