You know how it is. Picture this:
You’re at the water cooler. Your galpal comes up to you, looks around, and hisses under her breath, “You are not going to believe this.”
Your ears prick up.
“Maria, in accounting,” she gets a little closer, “she just went out to lunch…(dramatic pause)…with David.”
You gasp, “What?” Your galpal has been harbouring a mega crush on David. The kind you had on Patrick Swayze after watching Dirty Dancing.
“Yes.” Her face falls,” They looked really…cozy.”
“Well,” you try to rally your friend, “Maria goes to lunch with a lot of guys…if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” she sighs. “Slut.” She still sounds sad.
“Like last month, she went out with that guy from HR. If that isn’t trying to climb up the ol’ corporate ladder, by, you know, climbing on something else…”
“Yeah,” your galpal is sounding more lively now. “Gross. If that’s the kind of girl he wants, them I am so not for him.” She sniffs defiantly.
Oh, how easy it is to fall into the Jaws of Gossip. We gossip for many different reasons. There is the delicious, spiteful, schadenfreude gossip. (Schadenfreude: taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.) Or even better: gossip hidden behind a veneer of compassion: “Can you believe that Meredith walked on Andrew! She’d been a beast for years. I hope that he is surviving this blow, I am just so worried about him!” Or there’s gossip intended to raise our spirits, like the example above. And of course, there is the gossip that is not intended to be either malicious or compassionate, but is simply a conversation point that serves as a way of connecting with others.
So, is gossip really bad?
The gossip trap
There are two big problems with gossip:
- It creates false realities.
- It undermines your integrity.
Creating alternate realities
Most of the time, gossip is based on speculation rather than fact. Two thousand years ago in the yoga sutras, Patanjali made a distinction between “true knowledge” and “verbal delusion.” Even then, the yogis understood that our words have the power to create our reality. After all, “reality” is simply what we take in and believe with our senses. When we gossip, we are in the “verbal delusion” realm and are fabricating a reality that may or may not be true. In the example above, we actually have no idea why Maria and David went out to lunch, what “cozy” means, and we also probably have no real evidence for Maria’s past exploits either. Our galpal is filtering everything that she’s seen through a lens of insecurity and jealousy – so she probably doesn’t have the most reality-based interpretation of events. As soon as we create a story about someone that is beyond the bounds of what we know to be true, we are creating alternate realities. This leap of imagination is not so harmful when it involves people we don’t know (“Jessica Alba is having a twins with Ashton Kutcher!”), but it can quickly become toxic and confusing when it involves our co-workers and friends. Unfortunately, “saying it” often makes it so. And these stories become hard to dis-believe, even once they’re proved untrue.
Boom goes integrity
When gossip is close to home, it fosters cliques, secrecy, and an “us versus them” attitude. After all, it feels far more powerful to stew in righteous indignation or judgment than to be vulnerable, have a confrontation, and risk being wrong. And if we are gossiping locally, there’s always the fear of the gossipee finding out! This fear leads to alliances, codes of silence, and general duplicity. Now that we’ve gossiped, we have to be nice to someone that we were just complaining about. When we are forced to act differently on the outside than we feel on the inside, we are compromising our integrity and we become less powerful, open, and loving. Gossip creates barriers and prevents us from extending the benefit of the doubt or our compassion to others. There’s a reason that Don Miguel Ruiz advises us in the Four Agreements to “Be impeccable with your word.” Gossip doesn’t just create a false reality; more importantly, it causes powerlessness, disharmony, and contraction in our own being. We become smaller.
Removing gossip from your life
In order to be our best selves, then, we need to shelve the gossip.
So, how to we get rid of it?
The first step is to notice when you want to gossip, and to figure out why. Knowing why you want to gossip will give you keys to stop it in its dirty little tracks. We generally gossip:
- For power
- For entertainment
- To connect
Problem: we gossip because we feel powerless and we are trying to get our power back.
Solution: When you feel the urge, ask yourself:
- Gossip is cheap, short-term solution. Is there a longer term solution that I can initiate?
- What vulnerability am I deflecting through gossiping?
- What avenues do I have at my disposal to create more options for myself?
A note of distinction: there is a difference between gossiping and needing to process an emotional (and potentially messy) response to an event. Having a good friend that you can entrust with your process is healing and valuable. Trust your inner voice to tell you the difference between the two.
Problem: Quite simply, you’ve got nothing more interesting to talk about.
Solution: Go get a more interesting hobby. Join a book club. Ride horses. Or at least talk about Ashton Kutcher rather than your co-worker.
Problem: You want to find a bond with someone, but can’t find a way in.
Solution: Ask them about themselves. Work a little harder to find a topic with depth.
Rooting out gossip from your life is a challenge, but it is well-worth your restraint. Although initially it may be uncomfortable to refrain for participating in this socially acceptable pastime, upholding your own integrity will ultimately engender you with a sense of clarity, honesty, and inner power.
A final tip: When someone is gossiping near you and seeks your participation (as they will), remember that they are gossiping as a way to find power, entertainment, or connection. With a bit of compassion and curiosity, you can look a little deeper at their motives and consider speaking to the true underlying cause. Although this may lead to a more vulnerable conversation, it could also widen the possibilities for a real connection. And after all, that’s the good stuff, right?