I love ending the day with a quiet, meditative ride on my Arabian mare. A few steps into our ride the other evening, we stopped abruptly. A snake was in our path. Thinking it nearly dead, I dismounted and gingerly picked the snake up with a pitchfork. The snake began writhing around the prongs of the pitchfork, his little forked tongue flicking in and out.
I had been thinking about gossip.
Speaking with a forked tongue. The snake in the grass.
Perhaps I need to define what I mean by gossip. The hurtful words we say behind someone’s back are gossip. Negative crap about others that comes to us by hearsay, gets repeated–and blown out of proportion. Confidences broken. Judgments proclaimed. Unkind opinions spouted. Criticism.
The snarky comment, the rolled eyes. The stirring of the pot.
There are some who claim that gossip is harmless. That gossip creates a connection between the gossipers and reinforces socially appropriate behavior.
I disagree. Gossip is not benign.
We all know that someone who talks badly about someone to us, will also gossip about us behind our backs.
When we are honest with ourselves, we admit we do not feel “clean” after a session of gossip.
Gossip lends a false “intimacy”. Talking about others is not the real deal.
We do not respect a person who gossips, even as we participate in gossip ourselves.
We excuse our gossip by telling ourselves the target doesn’t know about it, so they won’t be hurt by our negative words. But the truth is, the person eventually figures out that things have gone awry. Someone slips and says something. The victim feels the cold shoulder, the sudden silence as they enter a room. They hear the newly critical tone of voice, perceive the lack of empathy.
Gossip is a way to avoid our own uncomfortable feelings of shame and unworthiness, by dumping them onto the person we are gossiping about.
We get caught up in gossip when we are insecure, when we seek approval.
Gossip is a way to gain power over others.
Gossip can be a form of social bullying. Building a case against someone. Piling on.
Gossip in the workplace can constitute harassment.
We all desire a safe, non-judgmental friend who respects our confidences. When we become that person, we will attract others to us.
We earn respect and cultivate deep friendships when we become known as a person who shuns gossip and maintains discretion.
For quite some time, I have been moving away from gossip. I really don’t like to be around it, and am much happier in gossip-free environments.
I have been deeply hurt by gossip.
And yet, I recently said something unkind and completely unnecessary about someone. At the time, I used her difficult behavior to justify my words. But I did not feel good about myself when I walked away.
I clearly have more work to do to banish gossip from my life.
How do we stop gossip? Especially when criticizing others may be a strong element of our social environment?
Here are some steps we can take to stop gossiping:
*Begin by setting our intention to stop participating in gossip.
*Be direct. State we are not comfortable with the conversation.
*Change the subject. Erect a “Wall of Pleasant” (I thank Pia Mellody for that phrase–non-affiliate link). Sometimes this works, but often, the gossiper is intent on venting her opinion.
*Offer a voice of support and compassion for the target of the gossip. Often, the victim of gossip is in a vulnerable place in her life, and the gossipers are piling on and bullying.
*Walk away. Find something positive and peaceful to do.
*Avoid those who habitually engage in gossip. Sometimes that means stepping back from friends who live in a social culture of gossip. And making new friends.
*Look within at our own motivation for engaging in gossip. Ask ourselves the hard, uncomfortable questions:
*What are our real motives for repeating the gossip?
-Are we feeling insecure?
-Are we holding onto resentment?
-Has our self care taken a back seat? Do we need to say “No” more often?
-Are we addicted to approval? Trying to belong?
-Are we driven by envy or an addiction to power?
-Are we generating a false sense of self esteem by going one up and sitting in judgement of another person?
-Are we shifting our own shame and our belief in our own unworthiness onto someone else?
-Are we gossiping about someone who has hurt us? I can get caught with this one, if I am not especially mindful.
*Consider the Golden Rule, and how it feels when we are the target of gossip.
*Embrace our own intrinsic worthiness. Believe we are enough. Because we are.
*And perhaps, most importantly, cultivate empathy and compassion–beginning with ourselves.
I know I feel better about myself, and my self esteem gets a huge boost, when I choose to travel the high road and avoid gossip–no matter what.
Will you join me on a 30 day challenge to stop gossiping?
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