Gossip (n.): Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
I would add a few extra elements to this definition:
- It usually involves a violation of someone else’s boundaries: information told in confidence, information shared against someone else’s wishes, etc.
- It’s rarely positive
- It usually affords a sense of moral superiority at another person’s expense.
I don’t like gossip. I want to be a good person (i.e. live with integrity) and, while I can’t control whether people gossip about me, I can control whether I gossip about other people; others gossiping about me doesn’t feel nice but knowing that I’ve gossiped about other people makes me feel much worse.
I used to gossip. A lot. I was insecure and talking down other people helped me feel like I had more comparative value. But after learning more about shame and vulnerability, mainly through the work of Brené Brown, I’ve become a lot more conscious of how damaging it is, not only to other people but to ourselves.
Gossip is the antithesis of empathy and compassion, and it’s a very small step from gossip to shaming.
Despite knowing this, gossip is something I’ve found hard to tame in my own life. Even when I’m super conscious of not wanting to gossip, I have still found myself getting involved in gossipy conversations and wanting to indulge. Avoiding it is challenging but the more I practice finding another outlet for the gossip urge, the better I feel about how I show up in the world.
Here are five practices that I’ve found helpful on my journey towards a gossip-free zone:
Journaling is a great way of expressing our frustration or judgements about someone or something without doing any damage. We get the satisfaction of expression and emotional release, without having to deal with the consequences of having shared inappropriate information with others. Writing down our thoughts and feelings also gives us a valuable record that we can revisit and learn from later.
I have a pretty rocky relationship with meditation. I know it’s good for me but sometimes it is sooo darn uncomfortable. I’ve found that putting bum to cushion and just doing it is most challenging, but definitely most helpful, when my monkey mind is going nuts. If I can resist the urge to gossip as an outlet for my feelings and practice sitting with them instead, I inevitably come out the other end in a much better place.
If you have an issue with someone, be honest about it with them. If we’re not honest with people about our feelings and then we trash-talk them behind their backs, how can those people trust us afterwards? Having the vulnerability and the courage to be honest with people when we’re feeling hurt, annoyed, rejected, or any other uncomfortable emotions is hard… but then so is not having any friends.
There’s a fine line between gossiping about a situation and processing a situation. The key differences are the focus and intention of the conversation. We all find ourselves in situations that we need to talk through with others so we can process our feelings and figure out the best way forward. I stop those conversations shifting into gossip by focusing on being authentic and exploring how I feel, rather than judging or claiming moral one-upmanship over someone else.
Gossip is a barrier to intimacy. (click to tweet)
When I stopped focusing on other people’s vulnerabilities and started focusing on my own, I (somewhat counter-intuitively) began to feel more secure in myself, and I found that my relationships with other people deepened. Instead of spending my time with others talking about absent third parties, I shared more about myself. As a result, I felt far more visible and accepted for who I was.
What alternatives to gossip do you suggest? Leave a comment and let me know.
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