Spitting Venom: Why Gossip Is So Destructive

by Dani Katz
Gossip is one of the quickest and most effective ways to destabilize a community, an organization or a friendship. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to state that gossip is the most toxic relational activity people engage in.
Yes, really.

What is Gossip?

For our intents and purposes, gossip means speaking unfavorably to third (and fourth and fifth) parties about people who aren’t present. When we talk about people who aren’t present, said people are (obviously) not available to weigh in on the matter in question. This is how facts and stories and opinions get super very skewed, what with the one-sided nature of their disseminating, thus destroying reputations and trust and friendships along the way.
Yay, gossip.
Think about it. How many times have you had a disagreement with a friend (or a spouse, or a supervisor, or, or, or…) - thoroughly convinced that you were right, and that the other was wrong - only to discuss it later, and realize you didn’t have all the facts, or that you weren’t dealing with shared definitions, or that one of you misunderstood the other or took something the in a way it wasn’t intended, or that you were simply operating from an emotionally charged blind spot? A lot, right? Human contention is rarely as black and white, or right and wrong as our egos like to make it. The truth is generally found in the grey area in between, wherein our conditioning and our values, our experience and our wounding conspire to shroud the sight that we like to think is crystal clear, even though it rarely – if ever – is. (Illustration by Dani Katz)

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When it comes to human relationships, we co-create our realities together. If we want to paint a full picture of our experiences, we need our co-creators to weigh in on them. And so it is that when we gossip, we trade half-truths painted with distorted opinions formulated through thoroughly subjective minds that have a vested interest in protecting our egos, and thus have a tendency to frame others as wrong, and ourselves as innocent victims, while messing with our relationships and other people’s reputations in the process.

Gossip is Lame.

Gossip doesn’t just apply to one-sided versions of disagreements. There are plenty of other types of gossip. There’s backbiting, there’s judgment, there’s the sharing of secrets and of information we’d prefer others not to know, to say nothing of the insane business of celebrity gossip – a cultural pastime it’s high time we, as a culture, outgrew. The key here is that when we gossip, we take it upon ourselves to share information about absentee others, which isn’t just reckless and rude, it’s lame.
Do we really have nothing better to talk about than absent people? I, personally, can’t think of anything more shallow or boring than to have someone feed me gossip about someone else. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Be a great mind. Let us cultivate our own thoughts and perspectives that have nothing to do with the minutiae of other people’s lives.

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Gossip is Mind Control.

We are impressionable beings, we humans. And so it is that when people offer up their opinions, or their versions of things that may or may not have happened to other people, those ideas sink into our minds, and shape our thoughts, beliefs and even our feelings about the people in question. The bigger bummer is that because these folks aren’t present to weigh in with their own perspective, gossip tends to solidify in our minds as truth. Suddenly, we’re harboring ill feelings towards others based not on our actual experience of those others, but on someone else’s totally subjective theoretical conceptualization of their experience of others, if not their subjective theoretical conceptualization of yet another someone’s experience, which – as you can see – can be even further removed, depending on how many people are participating in this super low-vibe game of telephone, wherein facts and impressions are necessarily skewed, if for no other reason than the mere distance from the actual source situation being referenced.
“I’m really disappointed in you,” my friend Michelle growled to me over the phone.
“Uh, why is that?” I asked, kind of thrown off, given that the last time I saw Michelle was at a Hip-Hop club, where we shook our asses and laughed ourselves silly until they kicked us off the dance floor to close the joint.
Michelle went on to tell me how she was upset at how I’d handled a situation with a friend – an emotionally charged misunderstanding that was exacerbated when I inadvertently drove to another state with said friend’s massage table in my car. The friend told Michelle I had “stolen” her table, when in fact, I had accidentally taken it in a state of confusion, and had every intention of giving it back upon my return. But, Michelle didn’t know anything about the intentions infusing my actions because she and I hadn’t discussed it (why would we? it had nothing to do with her). Instead, Michelle had gleaned her information from the friend who had a very vested interest in clinging to her victim stance, and had thus absorbed said friend’s emotionally charged revisionist narrative, and allowed it to inform her feelings about me (i.e. disappointment), without having all the facts.
Double ugh.

Gossip Erodes Trust.

“You know Amanda,” my girlfriend Emily confided in me during an early morning hike, “she’s not just pregnant; she’s infinitely more pregnant than anyone else has ever been in the history of procreation, thus demanding all the attention in the room.”
When friends gossip to me about other friends, no part of me thinks, “Wow, it’s great that Emily and I are so close that she feels comfortable talking shit about Amanda to me.” What I’m actually doing is navigating a whirlwind of nausea and disappointment, as I realize that Emily isn’t a trustworthy friend at all, rather is someone I would be wise to hold at arm’s length, and never, ever confide in, because she sells her friends down the river.
Triple ugh.

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Gossip Only Points to Your Issue.

Emily wouldn’t have mentioned Amanda’s perceived ploy for attention if she wasn’t angling for it – the attention, that is - herself. Gossip is very often a cover-up for our own unintegrated shadows and insecurities. Think about it. Why would we be inspired to bring a story into a space about a person who isn’t there unless there was a powerful charge around the topic in question that actually pertains to us. Let’s not kid ourselves. We don’t get powerful charges about other people’s lives, regardless of how selfless and interested we think we are. Powerful charges arise around our own shadows, which are reflected and then distorted in our interactions with others. To this end, the wisest way to deal with the urge to gossip is to a) shut up; and b) look at ourselves.

Here's How to Not Gossip.

I am a firm believer in not articulating anything about someone that I wouldn’t speak to their face. And no, this doesn’t mean taking up the practice of telling our friends all the terrible things we might think about them. What it does mean is being constructive with our criticisms and our opinions, and keeping the destructive thoughts to ourselves. It also means examining the inclination to speak about our friends and colleagues behind their backs, and digging beneath these urges to figure out what’s really going on as far as our own shadows, wounds and belief systems, as they pertain to our Self. Sometimes the things we want to say are a way of transferring ideas we hold about ourselves. Other times they are an indication of a misuse of power. Very often, the urge to gossip is a sort of social coup – we pride ourselves in having information about others that no one else has, and then we use this information to glean a false sense of approval from the people to whom we are gossiping. There are myriad possible reasons why, which means the very best use of the urge to speak ill - or even neutrally - of others is to use the trigger as a doorway into our own subconscious, and to examine why it is we are inspired to bring these absentee people into conversations they can’t possibly participate in, being elsewhere and all.
When others want to share gossip with me, I simply let them know that I’m not comfortable discussing other people’s business, with the caveat that if the story pertains to them, or if they’re wanting to share this information with me as a means of seeing their own blind spots, or learning from the experience, I’m all ears.
And if we really, really feel like we need to speak about friends and colleagues and acquaintances and celebrities who aren’t present and accounted for, let us offer praise and well wishes and blessings. The world’s fractured enough as it is.

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Tell us in the comments: Have you been the victim of gossip? How did you handle it?

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