There’s a bad habit that the majority of us participate in everyday without realizing the negative impact on others and ourselves. It’s something I’ve been personally working on for a few years. The results were not what I expected.
I’m talking about gossip and the act of gossiping. That little conversation about someone else’s private affairs that takes place when they are not there. It’s idle talk about someone else for our own pleasure and often involves words you would never say in front of that person.
It’s a habit born out of a lack of self confidence and our our society’s acceptance and promotion of peering into and discussing other people’s lives and problems.
When we participate in this bad habit, we damage our fragile empathy muscle and become less trustworthy with those around us. It helps us escape the unease and dissatisfaction of life that is intrinsic to the human condition.
Gossiping is often characterized as casual conversation about others, the details of which are often not confirmed or true. But what if you know it is true? Is it gossip? Is it then OK to take part? I like to think about it this way, true or not: how much do I really know about what is going on in this other person’s life, in their head, and how they are feeling? And what’s my motivation to talk about their situation?
When I was younger, empathy and responsibility were these nebulous concepts. They didn’t fit in with my world view, nor my need to feel secure. I now see that gossip is a crutch in our world of insecurity. Gossiping makes people lacking confidence feel better in the same way a drink temporarily makes an alcoholic feel better.
Part of me wants to think that gossiping really isn’t that bad. What’s the harm really? However, I’ve come to realize in the last year that the thought pattern is even there in the first place simply because gossiping is so addictive.
Gossiping can be harmful in a few ways. I’ve seen how that it encourages people to make sweeping judgements about others with very little information. This is because when we don’t have all of the facts we fill them in ourselves to support our argument. The result is that the opinions of others surrounding the person being discussed can unjustifiably be negatively impacted. Secondly, the time spent gossiping could instead be used to focus on the people you are with, learning about them, filling in the gaps of the stories you hold about them. It’s the ultimate game of being present.
It’s worth asking yourself if your time could be better spent, not discussing the faults of others when they’re not even around, but examining your own faults in the presence of others.
What’s most important to consider is that the mind in which gossip originates, a negative energy pervades. That negative energy doesn’t stay locked in, it needs to get out and it becomes a form of self destruction.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the last year about gossip and its impact on me.
1. If the urge to talk about someone who is not present comes up, I ask myself “is it true, is it kind, and most importantly, is it necessary to discuss?”
2. There’s no value in speaking of someone else’s faults and mistakes. The result has been finding less faults in others and instead, becoming more empathetic.
3. My compassion has grown and it has permeated into all aspects of my life, whether dealing with a call centre operator in the Philippines or inside my household.
4. Less delusion. I find that in all parts of my life I’m creating less self delusion, helping me arrive at the facts quickly.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should never talk about other people. But we should consider the intention of our speech and its impact. Let us not speak of other’s faults, shortcomings, and personal troubles unless it’s with them and with the intention of helping them.