When I was a Communications Consultant, I spent a fair amount of time in medical and dental clinics, where a good number of the employees were women. When we women are at our best, we are productive and fun to be with. At our worst, we tend to complain and gossip. We can become so busy trying to fix everyone else around us that we forget it is more important to tend to our own issues than it is to attempt to change others. It is in our desire to complain or fix others that gossip mode happens.
What I’ve learned about gossip is that what we gossip about is frequently based on inaccurate information and assumptions that can have more to do with a wish to express an opinion about a topic than it really has to do with an accurate picture of another’s life.
Consider the gossip columns. Writers are reflecting on someone else’s life by pulling out a few, meager pieces of information, sometimes out of context and too often without complete perspective, and then conjecturing about what those fragments of information must mean. In the grocery store line, you can see rows of gossip magazines all waiting to tell us about the lives of people the writers haven’t even necessarily met.
When I did a web search on “gossip,” I pulled up eleven pages of gossip sites, before I found an article that discussed the nature of gossip: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-science-of-gossip. Gossip has been raised to a level of acceptable norm. I’m not willing to catalogue gossip as being strictly bad for us; however, with so much gossip being negative or based in misinformation, I’ve taken the concept of gossip into my spiritual practice.
When I hear myself gossiping about someone else, I’ve gotten into a place now where I ask myself, “Who is this helping?” If I am concerned about the choice a friend is making, for example, I think it is wise to ask myself, “Why don’t I just talk directly and compassionately to my friend?” Certainly, a lot more can be accomplished in a candid conversations with the person I care about than can be accomplished talking about them.
There are times when I need to get some perspective of my own before I embark in that candid conversation. Say, I’m frustrated with my husband and I can’t tell if some old issue of mine is being triggered again or I really do need to bring something to his attention. A conversation with a trusted friend can be very helpful, if my focus is on personal discernment and not gossiping by simply complaining about him.
There is one exception I have found to the detrimental nature of gossip. Since we tend to experience gossip as being a negative portrayal of others, I call this reverse gossip. When you engage in reverse gossip, you talk about the strengths and accomplishments of others. You discuss their achievements and what you like about them, along with personal interactions in which you witnessed thoughtful, courageous and loving traits.
Reverse gossip is a great way to bring a little light into your own day and that of others, because it just feels great to speak positively about others. The next time you are in the break room at work, sharing a ride with a co-worker, or on the phone with a colleague, you might want to give reverse gossip a try. You might particularly note that it has a dramatic effect when one person begins to complain about another, and you offer a compassionate and caring perspective about the person in question.
If you find yourself getting ready to gossip about someone else, may I suggest you pause, take a breath, and say a few words of reverse gossip first. Stay with the reverse gossip until you are having good feelings about this person. Then see if you really still have anything negative to say at all.