Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My friend and neighbor Johanna and I know many people in common.
Most of the time we agree about them when we discuss their
personalities, lives, and evolving triumphs and traumas. I respect her
judgment and people smarts and I think she does mine. She’s a
psychologist and I am an attorney. One couple had a flaming divorce
two years ago. They used to be in her extended non-related network,
the type of group that gets together on major holidays. Each member
of the couple had a bio-child and there was a huge custody battle. The
one I am closer to brought big bucks into the relationship. The
(deadbeat) partner is a barely working real-estate agent (yes even
taking the economy into account). She has been trash-talking my
friend from one side of town to the other: not giving enough to the
daughter in college, not being willing to sell a property at a reduced
price, etc etc etc. She’d blame her for congressional deadlock and
global warming if anyone would listen. My problem: Johanna seems to
have swallowed this load of bull hook, line, and sinker. She keeps
asking me why my friend “isn’t doing enough to help the family.” I
can’t tell her to shove it but would like to say that to the greedy ex.
How should I respond?


Dear Tongue-Tied:

There’s a classic phrase in diplomacy: We agreed to disagree. You
should mobilize it immediately, along with several operational
components. First thing is for you to accept the fact that you cannot
defend your friend from her ex. If someone is determined to say bad
things about another person, whether it is motivated by anger, greed,
or random pique, you will be unable to stop it. There’s an old story
about a rabbi trying to explain that stopping gossip is the same as
trying to collect all the feathers from a pillow that burst in a



Talk to your friend Johanna simply and directly. Tell her that you and
she have very different views of the situation between the exes. Tell
her it is painful to hear your other friend defamed, especially because
your view of circumstances is very different and informed by a
different set of facts than she is repeating from the ex. Tell her you
think there’s another side to the story, but that you understand she’s
probably not going to hear it. Ask her to stop talking about these
people when she is with you, and, if possible, in front of others as well.
Then think about all the feathers you’ve let fly about other people and
consider the circumstances might also be more complex.