Words Can Harm: Gossip
This is Part 5 of a 7 part series entitled “Words Can Harm. Words Can Heal.”
Gossip is such a way of life isn’t it? We’ve all gossiped and have been the subject of gossip. It’s no fun being the subject of gossip is it? Well, I would like to relate that it’s also no fun for me when I engage in gossip but yet, there I am. Somehow finding myself being a passive listener or an active participant and when the immediate glow of divulging what I know about so and so has ended, I feel like s.h.i.t. In High School it was “the way” to be known and I craved social acceptance so there I was, in the thick of it. It never would occur to me that perhaps had I not engaged in the telling of gossip, I would have no karmic retribution needed in order for me to naturally become the subject of it.
So why is gossip so harmful?
Well. If you’re the subject of it, that’s pretty clear. It’s harmful because death by character assassination is no fun. Either your integrity is being attacked, who you are is being attacked…and basically, for the moments you are the subject of gossip – even if you never know about it – people are making decisions about who you are or who you must be based in something that you have no control over. They are discussing your motivations, your potential character, your life; you and yet, the real you is nowhere even close to it. …and if people choose to believe the gossip you could face some pretty painful words or actions regarding something you had no knowledge or control over. Gossip is at its worst when it spawns ugly rumors.
Rumor & Gossip Example: There was a rumor about me in High School. A rumor that did not have one seed or grain of truth to it and it was ugly. It was one of the ugliest things I had ever heard about another person – and that person was me! It was started by a guy I refused sex with and the way I found out about it was ugly. I would walk by a certain “cool guy” wall. You guys know what I’m talking about…the “cool guys? the jocks?” …and I’d hear murmurs of a phrase. First few times it happened I had no idea they were trying to taunt me and eventually a girlfriend let me know what was up. I was appalled. …and worse. There was nothing I could do. People want to believe the worst it seems. And one cannot fight something one cannot see. One cannot “see” gossip. One can see only manifestations of it and even then…the person who would be so bold as to confess the manifestation by muttering some phrase in order to intentionally harm you…? S/He’s probably not interested in your truth anyway.
For years after that- because I was a freshman, people would remember that terrible rumor. It seemed to have gained a life long after that guy graduated. As a result of that one rumor that started when I was a freshman, all sorts of things were spawned; that I was a whore. That I was easy. That I was “up for anything.” Because I had my own demons to fight while at home, I felt unsafe no matter where I went. I felt scared a lot of the time and had problems with an eating disorder that began around this time…eventually leading to alcoholic drinking and suicide attempts. I felt worthless and I hated myself. I was 14 and hadn’t grown the tools necessary in order to fight such a thing.
The upside of this is that no it did not ruin my social life in High School and nice boys still did ask me out. [Bad boys did too. Ahem.] I still had friends who knew me better than that and kind people who acknowledged they knew of the rumor but that it was none of their business even if it were true. With these people, I was able to use my voice and exercise my truth and they believed me.
Transmuted for a greater good: It cultivated compassion in me when I heard of other rumors about girls so that I didn’t wonder, I just discounted them. It allowed me to have empathy for those people in school who were targeted in any fashion for being different and it ultimately gave me a stronger sense of integrity. I learned that when I gossiped I was potentially hurting someone so I gained the voice of loving-reason when friends came to me with rumors. I can honestly say that the ugly thing I went through was transmuted for a greater good.
Have you been the victim of gossip or a rumor?
It does not feel good I know. It hurts I know. It can shake you and rattle, seemingly, the very foundation of the “who you are.” Sometimes it seems as if part of you starts to believe it right? Even if there *is* a seed of truth in it – or a whole plant! – understand it’s not your fault in any way. If you’re feeling vulnerable, tighten up your network. This means you can still trust people but trust those people your intuitive voice is telling you you can trust. Don’t spread your stuff all over the world because careless people do exist as fallible as we all are and they may trust the wrong person with your stuff and there you go – another gossip to rumor session.
Start making friends with a journal. Call it maybe your “God Journal” and put the stuff in there you want *someone* to know but feeling as if you can trust no one it goes there. We have experiences and trouble in our life and we need sounding boards. We need to get it out. If there is seemingly no one we can talk to about it we can get it out by writing it out.
Keep walking with integrity. It feels yucky and it hurts yes. But your outsides don’t have to match your insides. Walk with continued integrity and “act as if” you are still the amazing, unique, and wonderful person that you really are – even if maybe you don’t feel like that right now. If a well-intentioned friend wants to come to you to tell you what she has just heard about you [or someone else, for that matter!] a kindly phrased, “No thanks. It’s not my business right now. Wanna take a walk?” can do wonders. A rumor about you or gossip about you or anyone else is really not your business is it? I have learned it’s not my business. If Joyce wants to tell Allie something about me – whether it’s true or not or halfway whatever – that’s their business. Not mine. If I can keep this in mind I don’t have to continually hear things that hurt me.
Victim of Gossip Tips
- Tighten up your network. Don’t tell everyone your business.
- Invest in a journal with your closest problems or issues.
- Keep walking with integrity. Know that it will pass.
Have you been participating in gossip or rumors?
God allows U-Turns. This means that at anytime you want to turn around you can. To stop from participating in gossip we may feel as if we’ll lose half our friends. We may start to realize our common methods of communication were based in discussions of other people. If you start throwing up “No Gossip” boundaries you may lose some friends or you just might have to get creative on what you do start talking about.
If your common denominator in relationships is discussing other peoples’ alleged foibles, misdeeds or problems as a matter of chit-chat I wonder what else you might talk about or listen to?
How to Stop Participating in Malicious Gossip or Rumors
Gossip is very weird for me. It’s like I used to need “my fix.” I remember the same feelings when I used to watch the Jerry Springer show long after it quit being a talk show with any integrity. I used to love that show. I loved it when it was the talk show that tried to resolve problems among people – instead of exploiting those problems for ratings like it does now. In my opinion, Jerry sold out. I doubt if it’s even real anymore…it seems those people have to be actors of some nature – but I digress. But when I was finished listening or telling the gossip I just knew I had to hear or tell about, something was “off.” Something inside of me felt yucky and believe me I felt this way for years not knowing it was because of participating in gossip. If you think you may want to stop participating – either because you want to be a contributing member of society with integrity, or because you just want to see if maybe that’s what’s making you feel yucky – here are some suggested ways in dealing with gossip.
According to your situation, how developed your voice is, and how close you may be with certain people, some responses may feel more correct than others – which is normal. These are just to get you started on this new path of No Gossip, and I am sure you’ll be able to develop your own natural way of speaking your truth as you practice:
That’s really none of my business.
Is that gossip that you’re doing? “It’s not gossip. It’s true.” Oh! Well I’ve learned that even if it’s true, unless Mary wants me to know and tells me herself, that it’s not my business. If you’re going to continue with that, could you let me know so I can go ahead and get home to get started on those dishes?
Oh I’m sorry. I’ve just realized what gossip is and that sounds like it, so let me excuse myself from this conversation. See you tomorrow!
Did you intend to hurt my feelings when you told me that David said that about me? “Oh no! I just thought you should know.” If David wanted me to know what he thought of me he could have told me. As it is, my feelings are hurt because my friend just told me. If you wanted to participate in that that is your business. Now I’m participating in it and I did not have a say so. Please don’t bring to me hurtful things that people say about me. Peoples’ opinions of me are not my business and when someone makes them my business it can hurt.
Wow. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give you the impression that I listen to rumors.
I don’t like knowing that information. I hope in the future you give me the choice to not participate in gossip or rumors.
I realized I divulged too much information about myself to you. I seemed to have thought it would have been safe with you. Now that some people have just shared with me their concerns over my problems I realized I must have put you in a position. I would appreciate it that if you would like to discuss my situation further, you discuss it with me instead of other people.
There’s Chris now. Let’s ask him if it’s okay that you tell me his sexual orientation.
If everyone really is so concerned over Paula for moving in with this man, why don’t we go to her house right now and let her know we’re concerned? It seems to me that 5 or 7 people are talking a lot about it but aren’t offering a solution.
I don’t think your wife would appreciate your telling me you think she’s unlovable and has gotten fat. Are you hoping I’ll give her a diet? What’s her phone number?
Your boyfriend beats you and calls you names? I can get the names and numbers of a local shelter if you want me too.
I can think ad infinitum of other ways to respond to gossip, talking about someone, or rumors so these are only a few. The message from these responses is that the person listening is not paralyzed. Even if your choice to listen to the original “whatever” has been taken away, you can still send the message that you’re not a gossiper, and that you are a person who chooses to live with integrity. I think most people gossip under the assumption that the audience welcomes it so it’s not usually out of malice but out of ignorance as to why people gossip. It’s up to us to enforce our boundaries or our friends will enmesh us into theirs.
Are you responsible for a rumor or gossip?
God, again, allows U-Turns. Make the decision to stop this ball you have rolling and don’t ease your conscience by excusing it and offering yourself reasons why it wasn’t so bad you did it. This is non-productive because the ego is a defender of itself.
The ego’s job – it’s primary function in this world – is to protect you in all ways from all things it perceives as a threat. Ergo, the ego is not going to like that you [the "you" - the "spark-of-divinity that you are" you] want to grow the “you.” When this happens, as “you” grow into “you” the ego shrinks. And as the ego shrinks the less fear you have. The less fear you have the more you don’t need your ego because the less protection you need. So basically, it’s not in the ego’s best interest for you to not make excuses. The good news about diminishing the ego is happiness, peace, and contentment – the byproducts of an ever diminishing ego. So. With all that said…
Make no excuses, rationalizations or justifications as to the why you did what you did. You probably can’t help your internal dialogue from weaving its abundant “good reasons”, but you can help what comes out of your mouth. If it’s possible or a good idea according to your intuitive voice to go to the person you gossiped about in order to make amends, make sure at whatever cost, you do not hurt the person further.
NOT AMENDS: “I told people you were gay because you probably haven’t been tested for AIDS and I was only trying to be helpful to society.” or “I felt like I had to tell Jason about all of your abortions because he looks like the type of man who would want to be a father and I didn’t want him getting the wrong idea about your wanting to be a mother.” These are very bad and horrendous things to say under the guise of wanting to make amends. This is not making amends. This is being an “ugly you” and if this is all you’re capable of, it would be much better to not face the people you’ve harmed in any way or fashion. In this case your ego is so controlling you I doubt if you’re wresting any satisfaction from life at all. I would suspect you’re abusing pharmaceuticals or alcohol or any other thing you can find in being okay in your skin. I would suggest a Psychologist’s assistance in helping you.
The object of an amends is to repair, as best we can, the damage we have done. It is also not up to *our victim* to forgive us so we don’t add further pressure by ending our heartfelt speech with a “Do you forgive me?” An apology is like a present we leave on someone’s doorstep, so that when they are comfortable and feeling ready, they can accept it at their leisure.
After we have confided our deepest truths to the people we have harmed [the person we gossiped about and the people to whom we spread the gossip to], if boundary appropriate, we may ask to engage their help in ceasing gossiping. “…and I don’t like that I do that and am working on it. I would appreciate some support in keeping me mindful if I start doing it again.”
By [often] being the example, we can affect change in other people’s desire to want to start living within their own integrity. If I see that someone is growing in a direction that I like, they often unknowingly pass along the courage and then the tools that I end up using when I am ready to start growing in the same direction. That’s how it works. And today you’re reading this article because a long time ago I had a few examples in my life and off the top of my head, a woman apologized to me for saying something about someone. She said “I had no right to say that and his behavior was no excuse for saying what I did. I’m sorry.” Can you believe that in this situation I wasn’t even bothered by what she said…but the next time she saw me she cleaned it up. By my witnessing that, her being the example, is probably another cog in the machine as to why I am the way I am and why this article exists today.
You may be the only person living in integrity someone else sees today. And with this thought, you can affect a person. You have the power to change the world. People, not knowing how or lacking the courage to do so, seek others to lead the way. The good news is that today it can start with you.
Remember: If Words can harm, then Words can heal.
In Part 6 of the 7 part series, “Shame, Blame, and Manipulation”
Look for it Friday September 08, 2006.