Let’s begin with a one-sentence working definition of gossip for the purpose of this post: saying or listening to information (true or otherwise) about someone that you wouldn’t feel comfortable participating in if that person was standing next to you.
Between a difficult half-dozen or so years in school and growing up as a preacher’s kid in a series of small, insular towns I spent a good chunk of my childhood avoiding the ridiculous stories other people shared about me and my family.
The most important lesson I learned from those experiences is that it’s never just gossip. Listening to or spreading the latest juicy earful, even if it seems to be harmless speculation, can permanently damage your relationships for the following reasons:
It erodes trust. Most people consistently exhibit the same types of behaviours over time. If someone wants to share the latest titillating rumour about so-and-so I can only assume that they’re saying equally unflattering things about me when I’m not around. This makes it extremely difficult to share anything with them that I’m not ready for the entire world to know and if I can’t trust someone with at least some private or highly personal information we probably won’t be spending much time together in the future.
Words have sharp edges. They can destroy reputations and annihilate a lifetime of trust in one conversation. If I’m going to influence someone else’s life I want to build them up instead of tearing them down. Destruction is easier and faster but the only thing it leaves behind is emotional rubble. I want to be and do more than that.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Outward appearances and our assumptions about what is going on should never be taken as substitutions for the truth. They can point towards it but ultimately we can never truly know what is in the heart or mind of someone else unless and until they tell us.
Criticism is a habit. The more you practice it the easier it is to view others, the world and yourself with a critical and unforgiving eye. We need more grace and acceptance in our lives, not nitpicking or condemnation so this is how I try to treat both others and myself. Criticism does have its place in certain situations…but I believe it is a far smaller one than most people think.
I’d include celebrity “gossip” in this as well. Hearing that so-and-so is getting married, having a baby or won a prestigious award is fine. Rumours about alleged personal problems or nit-picking someone else’s appearance, family status or religious/ethical beliefs are activities that I find rather offensive. If it isn’t something I’d want to be said about me or someone I love why would it be somehow ok to do it to a stranger?
9 Responses to It’s Never Just Gossip
I really like this post. Especially the last two paragraphs. Nicely done.
Great post! I used to gossip a lot, thinking that it helped me make friends, because I had so much information to share. Then I realized that I was losing friends and that nobody trusted me with anything.
The post also reminds me of my mother-in-law. She trashes her other daughter-in-law constantly, then when they’re together, she is all sweetness. Of course, it makes me wonder what on earth she is going around saying about me. Well, I know some of it. People tell me!
I’d never thought of making friends as a reason to gossip. Did it make you feel like you were more interesting if you were the source of the latest rumour? Just trying to understand. 🙂
I know people like that as well, unfortunately.
Well, at work, I was quite popular. People always knew where to go for the latest “news.” So yeah, it gave me something.
Remember that old saying many of ouur pparents taught us when we may have been the victim of name-calling when we were kids? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” If there is one thing I have learned in my 46 years, that saying is most definitely not true. Broken bones heal. Bruises heal. Words, hateful words, lies, and malicious gossip penetrate far deeper into oour psyche. What we are told about ourselves, and what others are told about us, can mold us and shape our lives, and, leave a permanent mark – either for good or for bad.
So very true, MichaelL65.
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