Don’t Be So Nebby

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

Unless you’re from Western Pennsylvania or are fluent in Pittsburghese, you’re probably not familiar with the word “nebby.” Although it has distant British roots, the word is found most often today in the Pittsburgh lexicon. It’s a very useful adjective that one dictionary defines as being “nosy, snoopy or inquisitive.” There are some nouns that derive from the word nebby but since this is a family-friendly newspaper, I can’t repeat them here. Pittsburghers will know what I mean.
On one hand, being nebby is a normal human activity. I guess we all want to know what’s going on, and what the real story is. We’re curious to find out the details; what happened, how did people react, who said what to whom.
But being nebby quickly crosses the line into unhealthy, unholy gossip: “How can they afford that house; why did she ever marry him; he must know someone to get that job; she’s been drinking an awful lot; I heard that they’re fighting over the will.” Do these conversations sound familiar perhaps?
People in the church are often nebby too, and that includes priests and bishops. “I wonder who’ll get that diocese, or that parish; I know the real reason they moved our pastor; I saw our priest having drinks and dinner with a woman; They’re closing our church because they need the money; they must have something on the bishop.” These are all sentiments we hear from time to time in the hallowed halls of the faith community.
The phrase that Pope Francis has often used is, the “terrorism of gossip.” And indeed while some idle conversation is harmless, it can also be destructive, a source of pain and suffering for others. Gossip is a dangerous pitfall, a terrible temptation, a spiritual disease.
The Imitation of Christ, the original one, has this to say of idle conversation: “Shun the gossip of men as much as possible, for the discussion of worldly affairs is a great distraction, and we are quickly ensnared and captivated by vanity.” And again: “If you withdraw yourself from unnecessary talking and running about, from listening to gossip and rumors, you will find enough time for holy meditation.”
You see, good communication and transparency are positive values to be sought and practiced. But being nebby, trafficking in rumors and gossip, is contrary to the Gospel. It is a barrier to the Imitation of Christ.
Something to think about: Check your conversations. Are you nebby?