All humans partake in some form of gossip, despite the age-old saying, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Whether it’s workplace chatter, the sharing of family news or group texts between friends, it’s inevitable that everyone who talks, well, talks about other people. In fact, a 1993 observational study found that male participants spent 55% of conversation time and female participants spent 67% conversation time on “the discussion of socially relevant topics.”
People tend to think of gossip as synonymous with malicious rumors, put-downs or the breathless propagation of a tabloid scoop. But researchers often define it more broadly: as “talking about people who aren’t present,” says Megan Robbins, an assistant professor of psychology at The University of California, Riverside. “It’s something that comes very naturally to us” — an integral part of conversation, information sharing and even community building.
Sometime back I had read the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
The first agreement is, “Be impeccable with your word.” Ruiz goes into detail about the root of the word “impeccable,” stemming from “without sin.” He continues to explain and emphasize the importance of using our words wisely, restating over and over that our word has a ripple effect on the people around us.
When we gossip, we are fertilizing our minds with toxicity and judgment. We are much more likely to scrutinize ourselves when we are busy scrutinizing others. We are significantly more susceptible to self-centered fear and the obsession that others are going to gossip about us.
When I feel the internal pang of adrenaline that rushes through me right before I start character assassinating another person, I try to combat by asking myself these three questions (which I saw on a Facebook video some time ago):
Is it true?
Is it good?
Is it useful?
The reality is that I don’t always practice this mindful technique. The reality is that I am just as human as anyone else and I can fall directly into the pit of gossip that almost feels like quicksand; the more I try to justify my actions or reword my gossip, the more I fall more deeply into the pit.
So let’s take a look inwardly at why we gossip. For me, I can inadvertently feel better about myself when I am putting another person down. I can put myself up on a pedestal, even when I’m judging another person for being judgmental, which is super hypocritical.
But rather than shame myself for my basic human nature, I can practice moments of self-forgiveness while simultaneously keeping myself accountable. Instead of telling myself, “I literally wrote an article about this… how am I so hypocritical?” I can gently say, “I really don’t like that I just gossiped. I don’t want to do that anymore. I forgive myself for being human but I am going to keep myself accountable by telling on myself promptly and making the concerted effort to change my actions.”
I am a firm believer that we cannot shame our way into growth.
The last of The Four Agreements is, “Always do your best.”
That means that some days, my best is only going to be 60%. Maybe I am grieving, I’m physically sick from a cold or the flu. Rather than using that as justification for my actions, I can practice self-compassion and understand that I am doing the best I can at this moment if I am being as honest as I can. Other days, my best is 100% and I can live up to my ideals.
The most significant thing to help me avoid the gossip trap is surrounding myself with people who are also trying to better themselves and hold themselves accountable.
If I surround myself with negativity, toxicity, and gossip, I am going to adapt to my surroundings and that will become my new normal. If I surround myself with women and men who don’t allow themselves to fall into that trap or get honest about falling short and can practice that internal self-compassion, I am able to grow to those ideals that have been set as the norm.
Just for today, try to check your intentions when it comes to gossip. I can almost guarantee that it will not only change your relationships with others in your life, but most importantly, it will change your relationship with yourself.