For example, you are about to tell someone the news of what happened. “Guess what? You don’t know yet? Let me tell you.” If you are alert enough, present enough, you may be able to detect a momentary sense of satisfaction within yourself just before imparting the news, even if it is bad news. It is due to the fact that for a brief moment there is, in the eyes of the ego, an imbalance in our favor between you and the other person. For that brief moment, you know more than the other…Many people are addicted to gossiping partly for this reason. In addition, gossiping often carries an element of malicious criticism and judgement of others, and so it also strengthens the ego through the implied but imagined moral superiority that is there whenever you apply a negative judgement to anyone. – Eckhart Tolle
I’ve been slowly eradicating my gossip habit for almost a year, and my progress feels pathetically incremental so far. I decided I was done with gossip after a 20+ career as a talker, listener, and “this is what the deal is with that person”-er. It’s still a problem for me, but I’d say I’ve gotten to “lazy contractor” status at this point. It’s the process that is the destination that is the journey or something, I guess.
After an thoroughly embarrassing couple of years in the personal realm where the things I heard about myself were so terribly painful, even if they weren’t content-ually vicious, I had to change something. I can’t stop anyone from saying what they want to say, but I can make it my mission to never again be the source of that feeling of betrayal and shame for someone else.
And maybe eventually I’ll meet my karmatic gossiping debt and not be a subject, or I’ll grow as a person through a program of prayer, meditation and focus and become impervious to the harmful words of others. Neither of those has happened yet. I still hear “news” of myself via the proverbial and pathetic “birdie” and it still feels like burning. If I had to give Lily a dollar every time she has to quote her brother Luke’s song, ‘Let ’em Talk, let em talk, even if they’re talking about you’ , she’d have paid cash for her dream house six months ago.
The main goal of my quitting gossip project is:
Don’t discuss people’s personal misfortunes and business when they aren’t around.
Simple enough, you’d think. Even if it’s just to say that I feel bad for them, or to allay someone else’s concerns or curiosity. Just, no. My moderate success has come mainly from unhooking from friendships that were largely based on news sharing and hate speech. But when I do reconnect with people, it’s very hard to not fall into the old pattern. It might even be impossible, possibly.
When I’m caught up in a conversation and a gossip situation is eminent, my first method is to refuse eye contact and say, repeatedly,
“I really don’t know. I really don’t know. I have no idea. I’m sure they’ll figure it out for themselves. I really don’t know.”
Usually the hint is gotten and we move on. Sometimes not, however, and that’s when I tend to do this really stupid thing. I frantically change the subject to myself and start sharing my own private business. Smart, I know. Which is a nice way to introduce part two of the project:
Don’t share personal information with folks who do partake in the gossip scene.
Because some folks can totally handle it, and that’s cool, I kind of wish I could. But my newly hightened sensitivity and hair-trigger despair are counting me out. If I really like someone, though, or if I think they’re going to reject me or find me boring, I try to hang onto their interest by over-sharing about my personal life. So no gossiping means no gossiping about myself either. This part is probably the crux.
But sometimes neither of those tactics is effective, so I think I’m going to have to introduce a new, somewhat more blunt, method. I’m playing with the idea of a “I feel too weird talking about that without her around” kind of statement. I think I’m liable to get punched if I start saying that, though. So maybe not.
Of course, we all live in the world together and some situations do require some discrete discussion. If my friend feel’s like hell because some jerklesauce is oppressing his swagger with wickedry, he should be able to express that to me, and I can listen without it being a malicious gossip situation. But it’s tricky to know where to draw the line. So far as I figure, it’s this:
Keep the focus on myself.
Which should be super, super easy. If I’m discussing my business, and someone else is involved, it’s fine to express it or tell the story to a trusted friend. (“I can’t believe he said/did that to me. I feel so sad/stabby.”) But no character assassination (“s/he’s like that because s/he had this experience in the past, but really it’s because his/her father abandoned them and they just need to just gtf over it”), or judgement (“she is a bitch”). And no pretending like it’s my business because I have feelings about it. (“I just feel so angry on her behalf because he is such a jerk to her. And here are the ways in which he has been a jerk over the years”). But of course, if I feel angry on my own behalf because you were such a jerk to me, I’m gonna tell Lily and Emilia. And if you messed with my friend, he’s gonna tell me about it, and I’m gonna tell him to ignore you because you are not worth his mental efforts. K?
Non-bad gossip is also off limits, I think, at least for me. Because I have this way of turning it into a kind of carbon-trading market sort of conversation. If I say this mean thing about him, and pass on news of their break up, and assess then assassinate the character of his new girlfriend, I can make up for it by talking about how proud I am of someone or something else. Nah. But I will tell you that Emilia has secured epic sponsors for the Rock Rodeo, and Thomo is crushing at the Red, and Allen did a really hard boulder problem.
As for theoretical underpinning, I’m realizing that gossiping and “having the scoop” or even sharing about someone else’s situation and my feelings about it, is a form of being controlling. Like if I know what’s up, and I control what someone else knows, and I tack my judgement onto the news, well, I kinda control the message and therefor…the WORLD? Realizing that you’ve been discussed and assessed in your absence is, for me at least, the most powerless feeling I’ve ever experienced. I try not to hold it against myself that I feel so strongly upset by something so common. Just because there’s nothing I can do about it doesn’t mean it won’t feel horrible. And it does.
That’s all I have about that for now. Also, I’m sorry for gossiping about you. I promise I won’t do it again.