The Gossip Club

I had a friend who used to call me up and say, “I’m calling a meeting of the Busybody Club.” In other words, she wanted to gossip about
someone. She knew better, so did I, but I hate to admit that we couldn’t resist. We went at it shamelessly, it was satisfying in an odd sort of way, but later, when I spoke to the person we had cut down, I felt like I had betrayed her. Because I had. I felt ashamed. I liked her, she was doing the best she could under difficult circumstances, and I recognized the harm I was causing her and myself. Ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, said, “Strong minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Weak minds discuss people.”

Unfortunately, most of us talk about other people behind their backs. It’s a bad habit which for some reason is tempting and satisfying
– for a little while – until it begins to turn sour  in our stomachs. When I was in elementary school, the other kids didn’t like a girl named Lois because she was smarter than everyone else. They wanted to start a club called the “I hate Lois Club.” I didn’t want to join. I actually liked Lois but I didn’t want to be left out. When I told my mother about it, she told me how cruel it was. I felt the same way and when I got up the courage to tell the other girls I wasn’t joining, they disbanded the club. I had learned a lesson about being a mean girl.

The way I see it, we gossip for several reasons. First, when
we feel insecure, it makes us think we’re better than someone else. Second, we engage in a kind of bonding, two against one, with the person we’re talking to (psychologists call it triangulation) and we feel connected and somewhat superior. Third, we’re frustrated because someone won’t do things our way, they don’t see the
world the way we do, and we want to feel justified in thinking that our way is the right way. In the words of American writer and socialite, Alice Roosevelt Longsworth, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

When we speak negatively about someone, once we hang up the
phone or part ways with our co-conspirator, we start to feel guilty and unsafe. We feel less trusting and more suspicious. “If she could gossip with me about our friend,” I think, “she can gossip with our friend about me, too.” We just don’t know what people have been through, how their trials have affected them and how much they’ve suffered. In the lore of Native Americans, “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his moccasins.” It’s a good reminder for me to stop
sticking my nose into someone’s else’s business.

The gossip mill is like a hamster wheel. When you find yourself on it, you don’t know how to get off. You hear judgments spilling out  of your mouth, but you can’t seem to stop. I cringe when I judge someone about what they’re doing and then later that day, I find myself doing the very same thing. In general, no matter how it sounds, people are talking about themselves and we criticize others for what we think we lack.

Like all bad habits, it takes practice and commitment to
stop gossiping. It’s not the human condition. It’s a choice, something over which we can exert control and make changes. If we’re judgmental  toward ourselves, we judge other people. But if we’re compassionate toward ourselves, we are compassionate with other people. If we treat ourselves badly, we do the same to others. But if we prefer kindness over cruelty, we can use our penchant for gossip as a barometer for our self-worth and right action. I decided to hang
up my membership to the busybody club. Instead of finding fault, I’d rather give praise. Instead of criticism, I’d rather encourage. Instead of judging, I’d rather be a kinder and more compassionate human being and do what I can to ease someone else’s pain in this crazy world of ours.