Gossip – Pt 1 – AUDIO INCLUDED

Gossip. No one notices you not doing it. But is it possible that people see something else when you choose not to engage in gossip? I think so. However, whenever I teach on this topic, at least one person in the audience later tells me they had never realized how powerfully wrong it is to gossip. 

That is the first thing I hope to accomplish with this two-part series. So, before we talk about what people see when we don’t gossip, let’s first look at what others see and learn when we do make the choice to negatively conversate about those who are not present to participate in the conversation.

Brian P. Cleary wrote in his book, You Oughta Know By Now, the following tongue-in-cheek pronouncement: “It’s not technically gossip if you start your sentence with “I’m really concerned about __________________ ,” (fill in the name of the person you’re not gossiping about).” Of course, that is nonsense.

Other than the person being gossiped about, is anyone else harmed?

Have you ever left a conversation feeling a little sad and even dirty? If the topic of conversation involved information that could, in any way, be considered negative or unflattering relating to a third party, well, that is probably why you felt that way.

Whenever I listen to gossip, I may tell myself that I feel bad because of what I’ve just learned. And while it may be true that I may have acquired some information that is sad, I’ve just engaged in behavior that I know is wrong. Someone else’s dirty laundry has now become a part of me, and me a part of it. Honestly, that is really why I feel dirty. People who do something dirty often come away feeling dirty!

There are some who know this to be right on target and appreciate the reminder, but there are others who react to such sentiments with a sneer. Their mental chatter says things like, “I sometimes share information about others but it’s only because I’m really concerned about them,” or, “It isn’t gossip if it’s true,” or the cynical but convincing “Others need to know about what that person did so they can be forewarned and stay away from them,” or, “I was just venting!”

If such behavior is wrong whether or not what is being said is accurate … and, by the way, how is the gossip who insists what is being said is factually accurate in a position to know, with complete certainty, that what they are saying is 100% true?! But I digress. If such behavior is wrong regardless of the accuracy of the information, then no rationalization is a suitable excuse for participating in that behavior, no matter how convincing it sounds. 

But let’s say you disagree. Maybe you feel the gossiping that occurs around the water cooler at work and in social circles is just casual and harmless chit-chat and believe that at least some gossiping is okay. Perhaps you’re thinking that negative talk about individuals who aren’t present is sometimes unavoidable. Okay, so for the time being, let’s take out of the equation the morality of talking behind someone’s back.

Let us just look at gossip from the angle of meta-messaging. Let’s say I am someone who gossips, and others have noticed. Aside from the raw information of dubious accuracy that I am “sharing,” isn’t my act of gossiping also conveying some accurate firsthand information about me? If so, what is that information? What am I telling others about me whenever I gossip? 

In Part 2, we will discuss what someone who gossips is actually sharing about themselves when they engage in that behavior. But before moving on to Part 2, I invite you to think about the question I just posed: What am I telling others about me whenever I gossip? Am I telling the world good things about myself, or am I bringing into focus and holding up for everyone to see an unflattering picture of myself? Turns out, we are divulging a lot about ourselves when we make it clear what – and who – we are willing to talk about.

Gossiping can be a real obstacle to quality relationships, which everyone desires to have. But it can also represent a big obstacle in the way of gaining and keeping a desirable reputation as well! 

For now, before proceeding to Part 2, see how many things a person who is engaging in gossip is potentially saying about themself to their listening audience.

That’s all for now. See you in Part 2.

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