Integrity Appears Out of the Unseen – Gossip Part 1

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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. So, before we talk about what people see when we don’t gossip, we will start by looking at what others see and learn when we choose to gossip.

Brian P. Cleary wrote, in 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 something negative 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 badly 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 is sad and pathetic. 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 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 nor not what is being said is accurate, then no rationalization is a suitable excuse, no matter how convincing it sounds. The very reason it “sounds” convincing is that you very deeply want what you are doing to be okay.

But let’s say you remain unconvinced that gossip ought not to be done. Let’s say you feel the daily water cooler small talk is no big deal. 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. In other words, by engaging in gossip are we broadcasting to others any information about ourselves? Are we providing information about ourselves that can be read between the lines? If so, are we telling the world good things about ourselves, or are others able to paint an unflattering picture of us just from noticing what – and who – we are willing to talk about?

Gossiping can be a real obstacle to quality relationships, but also a big obstacle in the way of a desirable reputation as well! In Part 2 we will discuss what someone who gossips is actually sharing about themselves when they engage in that behavior.

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