“I mean, it’s just the truth, you know?”
“I’m not saying anything I wouldn’t say to his face.”
“People need to know.”
Like all topics I write about on this blog, I’m not coming at this one from a place of superiority. I’m right in the mix with y’all, and I know as well as anyone that gossip can be fun. Capital F-U-N, fun. Most of the time, it’s not about malicious intentions. No one’s trying to be hurtful on purpose, but you just get caught up in a conversation that probably started out about movies, or the Olympics, or your weekend, and somehow ended up in the realm of whispering and side eye. I live in the southern US, a part of the world where literally any form of trash-talking can be modified into innocent sweetness with the simple phrase “Bless her/his heart.” We all have our means of recovery, but the question is, did you really want to go there in the first place?
Gossip is one of the oldest forms of human bonding. As one of my favorite TV characters ever will tell you, some people see it as critical information sharing. Offering tidbits of novel information in intimate settings, and realizing that other people are on the same page as you are in terms of receiving and assessing said details makes us feel connected to each other. Connection is an important part of feeling like you belong and have a place in a community, which is a fundamental need we all have. So, we can’t fault ourselves for slipping into it. Just like with your mindfulness practice, a key step to progress is removing self-judgment from the equation. The next step is noticing how much overall judgment is left once you do.
Why do we talk about people behind their backs? The reasons are as varied as the juicy topics we cover, but it usually boils down to one key ingredient: they do something that makes us uncomfortable (irritated, frustrated, angry, shocked, disappointed, etc…) and we want to vent. Moreover, we want to confirm that other people view the event in the same way we do. It normalizes our response to it, our larger overall beliefs, and solidifies our “belonging’ in the community. All of this makes it feel “ok,” and then all is well, right? Meh….unless maybe you’re feeling that little string of doubt inside you, tugging away on your conscience and making you wonder how necessary it all really was. Did you say something you didn’t really mean, or exaggerate a point just to get a reaction or make the story seem more compelling? It’s a slippery slope, all that fun, and it can be hard to see in the moment where exactly a good-natured conversation turns into a bash-fest.
Before you think I’m a total buzzkill, I’m not suggesting that you start monitoring and censoring all of your conversations. I also don’t encourage dishonestly to smooth over uncomfortable truths. But as you continue to evolve your mindfulness practice, you will notice that you become better at reading the signs along the path into a conversation you didn’t really mean to have. In short, you’ll be able to check yourself before you wreck your…well, your karma, anyway. That is, if you choose to.
One of the valuable side effects of mindfulness is the clarity with which you are able to see your internal reactions, and the choice that it gives you in terms of how you respond. If you choose to get chatty about someone or something without them being there to participate, you are free to do that. If you make the choice intentionally, then you are less likely to feel that tug of doubt afterwards. The key is to check in with yourself first, and to proceed with caution if your internal self tells you that what you’re about to say may be coming from a place of discomfort. Do you really want to say it? If so, then let’s hear it. I, for one, am all ears.
“Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?” – Sai Baba
Photo credit: David Marcu