We have all been there before: someone walks in as words tumble out of our mouths. This is followed by the ensuing awkward silence, the uncomfortable fidget, a slight blush. Eyes are averted and relationships are often irrevocably strained.
To gossip is to talk about someone who if they were present, would not appreciate what we had to say. Though we may revel in it, we do feel a slight twinge, almost as if our conscience is reminding us that we are engaged in an activity that’s potentially harmful.
Gossiping therefore, is a moral act. Words can hurt people and break bones. Every sentence we utter lines up with our convictions. Our voices, our words, our conversational gestures, they all seek to reinforce our core beliefs – to persuade or dissuade others. Words change minds. Words revise opinions.
Because we use gossip to establish intimacy within a group, it also means some people will be excluded. We take pleasure in affirming our moral code repeatedly. And we usually position ourselves as nigh infallible – we seat around a scared round table from which our judgements are handed down unkindly.
Perched from our haughty stone towers, we hope to feel superior – after all, there’s safety in numbers, and the larger the crowing flock, the greater the comfort. Such an act is a fine example of groupthink: our tendency to act, think and speak differently when we are with a crowd.
The worst kinds of human behaviour always begin with groupthink. Look no further than religious persecutions or political rhetoric.
Yet amusingly, though we do not wish for others to gossip about us, we rarely use that as a base to justify why we shouldn’t talk bad about others. For most people, it completely escapes them that the very act of a conversation (not just gossiping) is a great moral force.
Gossiping should be done intelligently and like criticisms, should be handled with a set of ethics that recognises that every person and every situation is different. We should pay close attention to the words we say because just like looking deep into a person’s eyes can snare one for life, so too can what we say lift a person up high, or hurt them very deeply. And we should blunt our knives even at the worst of times.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) what gossiping means to you?