The other day, I taught an etiquette class to a mom and her delightful eight year old daughter. One of the topics I covered was gossip.
When I teach it, I have my kids squeeze some toothpaste out of a tube onto a plate and then ask them to try to put it back into the tube. They usually struggle to get it back in. That’s when I say “gossip is like toothpaste that has been squeezed out of the tube, once it’s out you can’t take it back.”
An acquaintance I know has a tendency to gossip a lot about others. She gossips both about her friends and people she doesn’t know well. The first few times she did it with me it didn’t bother me too much. But, when it became a regular occurrence I started to get annoyed. Not only do I not like hearing negative things about others, but I realize if she is talking to me about others she is probably gossiping about me as well. Because of this I don’t feel I can trust her.
I’m not going to say I’ve never gossiped. I am not perfect by any means. But, I try not to do it because I it makes me uncomfortable when others gossip with me. When I catch myself gossiping it’s often because I’m feeling insecure about something and I do it to make myself feel better. Keeping this in mind, when I find myself gossiping I try to look at what’s making me feel apprehensive, and then work through it rather than denigrate someone.
Does that mean we should never gossip? No, sometimes it’s helpful to share information about others. For example, many years ago I was interviewing for a job, and in my research I talked to a friend who knew the company very well and was friends with some of the employees. I asked my friend to find out about the position and the person I would report to. It turns out the hiring manager had been accused of sexual harassment by several employees. I was so glad I got that information before I continued pursuing the job.
So, occasionally gossip can be useful. Most times though it is a useless, hurtful practice that harms both the gossiper and his or her target.
When you find yourself gossiping try to connect with what’s making you feel insecure or afraid. Then focus on working through your feelings rather than maligning someone else. It’s not always easy to do, but awareness is the first step.
How do you feel about gossip?