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We are right to feel horrible about ourselves when we’ve participated in gossip. In a figurative sense, we’ve thrown a rock through the living room window of the person we are talking about. We’ve spray-painted a vulgar message on their garage. We have harmed that person’s reputation by abiding the spread of information that they probably would not go out of their way to convey to you themselves.

The potential harm we do to others when we gossip and/or listen to it is a big enough reason to avoid it like a dangling live 90,000-volt electrical wire. But let us consider the harm you do to yourself when you talk about people who are not in attendance.

Gossip can be like a virus. It reveals poor character, causes pain and leads to damaged and destroyed relationships.
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Pictured here is one of my favorite works by Norman Rockwell. Rockwell’s iconic paintings were featured on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post; a staggering 322 covers over a period of 47 years.
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“How would your life be different if… you walked away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day… you speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

When I gossip to Larry about Rick …

  • I am telling Larry that this is what I do. I talk about others when they are not around.
  • I am telling Larry that it probably doesn’t matter who the person is. If they are not present and if I have some information about them that I determine to be worthy of sharing with others, it could be anyone that I am willing to gossip about.
  • I am telling Larry that I do not respect Rick (or anyone else I’m talking about).
  • I am telling Larry that I am willing to turn others into an object. [To amalgamate a person’s personhood into merely something they are rumored to have done is to turn that person into an object. And an object is less worthy of the same amount of respect than respectable people deserve.]
  • Without meaning to, I am giving Larry my tacit permission to talk about me when I am not around.
  • I am undermining community by creating and contributing to fissures and fractures in the relationships.
  • I am revealing myself as a shallow person.
  • I am revealing myself as a lazy person. Engaging in real face-to-face relationships, being vulnerable and transparent about yourself – not others – takes time, work, patience, and character.
  • I am creating distance. All of the above consequences of discussing Rick’s trash with Larry result in me not being trusted by others, not being liked by others, and experiencing a certain amount of isolation.

Gossip is a huge obstacle to a better life.

The way to clear that obstacle is to simply resolve to never talk negatively about someone who is not present. Decide it to be a chiseled-in-stone rule you will live by and then obey it. Never discuss the negative (or rumored, but not known to be true) life details of someone who is not in your company. If it starts to happen, diplomatically cut it off or excuse yourself from the conversation. Or don’t. Just walk away! Bottom line: you can – and should – choose to not participate in gossip at any level, ever.

It takes integrity to resist the temptation to gossip and to courteously step out of such situations, without being self-righteous about it or judging others who don’t have the same conviction about it that you do. Generally, no one sees us not gossiping. But if, over time, we abstain from things that invite others to see us in the way(s) outlined above, strong traits like integrity just sort of appear seemingly out of nowhere.

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