Gossip – Part 2

The potential harm we do to others when we gossip or listen to it is a big enough reason to avoid it like a live dangling 90,000-volt electrical wire. But let us consider the harm you do to yourself when you convene a sharing session about people who are not present.  

Gossip can be like a virus. It reveals poor character, causes pain and leads to damaged and destroyed relationships.
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Pictured here is one of Norman Rockwell’s iconic paintings featured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell illustrations were featured on a staggering 322 covers over a period of 47 years.

When I gossip to Larry about Rick …

  • I am telling Larry that this is what I do. I talk about others when they are not around. If I was thinking about it, I would quickly realize that’s not something I would want Larry to think about me. 
  • I am telling Larry that it probably doesn’t matter who the person is. In other words, Larry is being given the message that I am likely to gossip about him if I believe the situation calls for it.
  • I am telling Larry that I do not respect Rick (or anyone else I’m talking about).
  • I am telling Larry that I am willing to turn others into an object. Make no mistake about it: gossiping amalgamates a person’s personhood into something they are rumored to have done. That’s because gossiping never includes the big picture about the person being gossiped about. Instead, they are being reduced to the sum of what they allegedly said or did. And everyone knows that an object is less worthy of the amount of respect than a living person deserves. The problem is that the subject of the gossip IS a person! Everyone, no matter how badly a person may have behaved, deserves to be treated like a person. 
  • Without meaning to, I am giving Larry my tacit permission to talk about me when I am not around.
  • I am informing Larry that I am okay with saying things that are untrue. How? Simple. A gossip almost never knows with absolute certainty that everything they’re saying about other people is 100% accurate or the entirety of all relevant information about the subject. Yet, they have no qualms about opening their mouths and “sharing” that unverified, incomplete information about someone who isn’t present to speak on their own behalf
  • I am undermining the concept of community by creating and contributing to fissures and fractures in the relationships.
  • I am revealing myself as a shallow person.
  • I am revealing myself as a lazy person. To engage in real relationships involves being vulnerable and transparent about yourself. Real quality relationships take time, work, consistency, integrity, and character.
  • I am creating distance. All of the above consequences of discussing Rick’s trash with Larry result in me not being trusted by others, not being liked by others, and experiencing a certain amount of isolation. Even if Larry is receptive to what I’m telling him about Rick, my gossiping about Rick will prompt Larry to keep a safe distance from me. In the future, Larry will be careful about what he allows me to know about him and his life. This relationship distancing is a natural consequence of my decision to gossip

When you gossip, in a figurative sense, you are throwing a rock through the living room window of the person you’re jabbering about. You might as well literally spray-paint a vulgar message on their garage. And keep in mind that in a very real way, you’re doing the same thing to yourself! Yes, you’re harming the reputation of the person you are gossiping about, but you’re also harming your own. 

“How would your life be different if… you walked away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day… you speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.”

― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Bottom line: you can – and should – choose not to participate in gossip at any level, ever.

Gossip can be a huge obstacle to a better life for everyone it affects. And let’s be clear: it affects everyone! No one is immune to the negative consequences of gossip. 

The way to clear that obstacle is to simply resolve to never talk negatively about someone who is not present. Decide it to be a chiseled-in-stone rule you will obey. Never discuss the negative (or rumored, but not known to be true) life details of someone who is not in your company. If it starts to happen, diplomatically cut it off or excuse yourself from the conversation. Or don’t. Just walk away!

In whatever form it takes, do whatever you can to oppose an environment of tolerance toward gossiping. Don’t remain silent while reputation-damaging information about someone who is not present is being spread. Keep in mind that if you gossip or even signal your tacit approval of those who do will ultimately harm your own reputation.  

In closing, too many people lack conviction about the potential damage caused by gossiping. It’s not taken seriously enough. Yes, it can be tough to courteously step out of a situation where gossiping is taking place. In some social circles, you could be thought of as a prig, self-righteous, or “judgy.” You could even lose friends.

But think about it. What will happen over time if you abstain from doing things that people of low integrity have no problem doing? You’ll be seen as a person of integrity. If not by those “friends,” then others. This is where we started in Part 1 when we asked what others see when you choose not to engage in gossip. The answer is integrity. 

If the people around you don’t have the same conviction as you do about things like gossiping, don’t worry. You will attract friends like yourself – quality individuals who treat people right. 

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