From my tap flows bitter waters,
I separate friends,
I ruin institutions,
I often start with one untrue sentence,
I rage fiercely with lies,
I lure the most unsuspecting of you,
Into the quicksand of “have you heard?”
I choke relationships,
And remove vitality out of families,
What is my name?
My first and deeply impressioned experience with gossip was when I was in high school. I had a seat mate, who was also my best friend. We walked home together, she ate at my house and vice versa, our family knew each other. Everyone knew we were close.
A slum book was being passed around in class to fill. I remember so vividly as I write this. The book was passed to me and I opened a section and saw what she wrote about me. Time literally froze.
She had commented that, I was a snob, among other things she had mentioned about me. Things, I only wanted her to know. I could not imagine why she would say that. I think the real issue was that, this was my best friend, and this book was being passed around our class. Our friendship took a different turn after that. It’s been over 1.5 decades ago, but I still remember how it felt so well.
It did not feel good, because it was not true.
A slum book is a book passed around in high school to fill on different information about yourself. Questions there can include; favorite meal, favorite color, best friend, what you like about them, worst fear, your crush, funniest movie you watched. A lot of random things.
In high school, I was very popular, only for academic reasons though, thanks to gossip. As a pure science student, who was very smart, and well praised by her teachers, my name got around very quickly.
Boys wanted to know, “Who is that girl? She became best overall in Math again??!!”
Girls wanted to know, “Who is that girl? Why do the boys like her?”
I personally didn’t care about any of this. I had other things on my mind.
This was the untrue, unconfirmed, conveniently shared story: I wore a pair of thick glasses in high school, and was quite serious faced, and hardly said a word to the public. I mainly spoke to two friends. Therefore, the assumption was that, I was a snob. The story composed was that, because I was smart, and well-loved by teachers, I was proud. This led to series of bullying I would not recount here.
The true, unshared, hidden story: At that time in high school, I was extremely shy. I could not even hold the gaze of my peers. I had lot of self-esteem issues. I was nervous to have conversations. I was just so afraid to talk, almost like I was mute. I, however related freely with my best friend and one other friend. My best friend knew I was quite shy. She was the extremely extroverted type. I hung out with her because she made me laugh a lot. She was also bigger than I was physically, therefore I felt she could protect me if anyone tried to mess with me. She was quite vocal, and I was not.
The other part also was: I could not see without my glasses. Sometimes I took them off because I was teased, and bullied because of how thick they were. The consequence was me squinting, angulating my face into the sky, attempting to accommodate far vision. I could be looking directly at you, and not see you at all. But, it was unfairly concluded that I held my nose in the air, and ignored greetings because I was smart, and the teachers liked me.
They were times my glasses broke, and took weeks to replace. Imagine everyone thinking my nose is in the air because I am smart and loved by teachers, not knowing, I was struggling to see without my glasses
It was hard for me at the time, seeing in a slum book, what my best friend really thought of me. That only drove my insecurities at the time deeper, and I couldn’t be myself around her anymore. As you can imagine, the term or notion of “best friends” became history for me.
The untrue story circulating at the time tampered with an image of an already insecure teenage girl, led to lots of bullying, and hurt my relationship with my “best friend”.
I never got to change that impression of me throughout high school.
Which now begs the question- What is Gossip? Who is a Gossip?
Gossip is defined as a casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
A gossip is a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others.
Quite subtle, but easily gains speed, and spreads aggressively.
Tempting to partake in, and hard to quench.
Some of us are more prone to it than others, just as with anything else in life.
I have no intention to make this gender specific, but it appears that women struggle more with this than men.
Some people say, gossip is only when you spread harmful or negative information about someone behind their back. Some say, it is when you share information with other people that is only sensitive. I say, if an information does not directly impact you, nor add to the value of the relationship in question with the other person in a positive, enriching, and forward-thinking way, desist from being a partaker.
How would you know what will harm the other person if it gets out or what is indeed personal? Best to err on the side of caution.
Let’s be honest, gossip is sweet.
Gossip is juicy.
Not because I have experienced that pleasure, as I am personally averse to that nature, but it’s what mainstream culture celebrates.
You get celebrity gossip. Hot Gist. Celebrity news.
Who divorced who? Who got DUI? Whose millionaire father wore a pajamas to the grocery store?
Does it really matter?
I am not referring to those who work in the entertainment world, and therefore has it as their full time job to bring fresh gossip to your doorstep daily.
I am referring to something more serious here.
Serious enough to defame character, break families, end ancient friendships, and destroy workplace trust.
If you have ever been an object of gossip, you know how deeply that hurts.
Sometimes people take the information they get for granted and say things like,
“Well, he is my friend and won’t mind me sharing”.
How do you know that to be true? Did you ask?
As an act of respect for the individual concerned, always seek permission before you launch into “free-information-sharing” mode. What you may consider “small stuff” or “regular” might carry more impact for the other person if the information gets to the wrong hands.
The Vicious Triangle
In Psychology, there is something called Triangulation.
Very cool word. I love playing with words. Just looking at that word, two things stand out to me; Triangle and Strangulation; which could mean, being strangled in a triangle. Pretty cool, right?
However, in Psychology, it means “using a third as a substitute for the direct communication, or as a messenger to carry the communication to the main party. Usually this communication is an expressed dissatisfaction with the main party”.
Have you ever experienced this?
If you have been on the receiving end of this, you will observe that it is not a dignifying way to communicate. It is just plain nasty, and might come across as cowardice. Plus, meanings could get lost in transition.
Others argue that, “Well, maybe they don’t want to be confrontational?”.
Seeking to communicate, to understand, to listen, to resolve a problem, when done with the right attitude, and heart is not confrontational.
Triangulation is another aspect of gossip. This can negatively impact relationships, when rather than handling an issue directly with someone, it is being talked about to someone else or more than one person. This then spreads and magnifies, without solving the issue.
It can happen at work, at home, or in the community. Going around and behind the person involved doesn’t solve the problem. As much as direct, open and authentic communication is uncomfortable, it is also the birthplace of healing and restoration.
A friend of mine was going through a hard season. I saw it in her eyes. In social circles, she would come around, smile, chat, and play as usual. But all I could see was that she was suffering greatly…. and quietly too.
I could see tears in her eyes; the ones she carefully navigated in public. I was so concerned and made a visit to her house. The goal was to deep dipper.
She confirmed to me she was going through a personal and challenging season with a close relationship in her life, and didn’t go into details.
I was moved by her suffering and simply said, “I would love to support you effectively at this time, but I am unsure how, since I do not know what is going on”.
Her next statement was quite deliberate and serious-toned.
She said “I will tell you under 2 conditions;
1) You can never tell anyone
2) You must never look at this person through the eye of offense. DEAL!
She proceeded to tell me all the hard details. I provided resources I knew could help. More importantly, she did not have to go through that hard season alone.
Few weeks later, I found myself in a circle with her and the person she had been having relational difficulties with; someone she loved.
I observed she was scrutinizing my face and body language with laser focused care, to see if I gave off any vibe of offense towards this person, based on that she had told me.
Guess what? I passed the test and thus, our relationship deepened.
The reason why I could earn such credibility at first is that she had never heard any story about her life elsewhere that she had told me. The reason I could retain that credibility till date, is that she could tell me those things, and I didn’t take the “juicy story” around town.
Not even in the name of, “so she can get more support” or “out of concern”.
Imagine if I had handled her trust so poorly? Our long and cherished friendship will be toast today.
The truth is after hearing that someone is unprofessional, ill-mannered, disloyal, dishonest, proud, lies, ungrateful, hypocritical, addicted, abusive, unfaithful, unbalanced, unlikable, criminal, aggressive, or carries a disease, it is difficult to interact with that person with an open mind or trust them, as we did, OR would like to, before we heard that story about them.
What is your relationship with gossip?
Kevin A. Thompson described it excellently on his website,
“Leaders don’t have time for gossip.
Servants don’t have the heart for gossip.
Friends don’t have the desire to gossip.”
Impact of Gossip
- Others will gossip about you. It’s called karma. The people you gossip with, will surely gossip about you.
- You are at risk of having less authentic relationships as people might be guarded around you in their communications. They might wonder, “What do I want him to know about me that is safe?”, “What can I tell her, that won’t hurt me if a thousand people get to know in 2 weeks”.
- You lose credibility at work, home, play as you are perceived to be of questionable integrity.
- It hurts people in your circle, as untrue stories cause shame, embarrassment, and regret
Is that true?
I remember a while back, about 4 years ago, a close contact needed me to weigh in on a matter that had caused conflict between two friends. I was a 3rd party. At the time, I wondered, “Why bring me in? Why not handle the issue by yourself? I don’t want to be involved”.
This contact of mine was upset by the issue and believed in my good judgement.
I came in with a well cherished weapon; the weapon of curiosity.
I knew these two parties who were in conflict well. Their tendencies, weaknesses and strengths, but I decided to remove myself from that “knowledge” place, so I can be unbiased. Like a lawyer of some sort.
“I was told that………., is it true?”, I asked Party A
“I was given the impression that………., is it true?”, I asked Party B.
After about 3 hours of back and forth, I made a good judgement, conclusion and recommendations to foster the relationship. An act which still holds me in highest esteem before all three.
But, that’s not the point here.
I uncovered something fascinating.
Party C, who had made an initial report to me, asking for my weigh-in upon a matter between Party A and B had judged the situation wrongly.
Party C had reported the matter to me based on past experiences, preconceived ideas, and what Party C saw, heard, thought and felt, NOT necessarily what was true of Party A and B.
It did feel true; as I also had a knowledge of Party A and Party B’s tendencies.
I could have blown the situation out of proportion, and found other people to tell it to, OR get curious, confirm and conserve the relationship.
I chose the latter.
IS THAT TRUE?
- Is a very powerful question
- Shows you give me the benefit of the doubt
- Means I have a voice and you want to listen to me
- Reflects proctiveness about checking the facts
- Shows that you are solution driven
- Mends relationships, and not break them
- Fosters trust and highlights integrity
The same goes for all other oral disease like slander, backbiting, rumor mongering, badmouthing others, when you don’t even know their full and true stories.
Seek to explore and confirm the truth.
Seek to conserve and deepen relationships, not ruin them.
If you feel uneasy as you read this, perhaps, you might want to explore why you feel that way.
Perhaps, there is someone to contact, and apologize to for sharing an unauthorized story about them, or an untrue and unverified story.
That is up to you.
Whatever you do, please don’t be a gossip.
Do not be that person who fosters untrue stories. Let the buck stop with you.
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