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Why do we gossip?

By Frances Yu, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 31, 2020 5:00 pm Updated Nov 01, 2020 1:48 am

Gossiping is one of  our favorite pastimes in the workplace. We are all familiar with gossip, but did you know that you commit slander by talking disparagingly about someone, even if what you are saying is the truth?

Slander occurs when you summon the facts for the purpose of dishonoring and disgracing an individual. There are no secrets in the workplace. The walls have ears and words have wings. Unfortunately, bad news, negative news, or the shortcomings of others are so much more delicious than good news. Mistakes or the failures of others travel at lightning speed. Speculative whispers abound as to who’s having an affair with whom. The impending termination of someone, or someone who was berated publicly, or the supposed incompetence of someone are all daily fodder for the office grapevine.

Even just hanging around the pantry, backbiting the boss or a co-worker has become so normal that we forget the insidiousness of this kind of unwholesome talk. The more you delve into negative conversations, the more negative you become, and the more bitter your heart becomes. Before you know it, you are not even aware of how the words you say and the words you listen to have sullied your soul.

But think for a minute: how do you feel when you participate in bashing someone? Do you feel light and carefree, or do you feel heavy and uneasy? When you listen to malicious gossip, you may feel an initial headiness, thinking that someone is worse off than you, or taking delight in someone else’s misfortune. Schadenfreude is a German word which means the experience of pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune.

But how do you feel? Do you feel a slight twinge of guilt that you immediately justify by saying that you are only speaking the truth? Don’t you feel, deep down inside, that you are diminished by this kind of talk?

When we disparage others, we reveal the bitterness inside our hearts. We reveal the anger, envy, or low self-esteem that seeks to bring down others in order to lift ourselves.

An antidote to gossip and slander is gracious speech that strengthens personal relationships; praise that encourages and builds confidence in others.

Praise privately and praise publicly. Honor people with your words. Unlike gossip that tears people down, praise builds them up. Gossip leaves you diminished. Praise also upbuilds the one who offers the praise. Being magnanimous expands you.

Finally, imagine being on the receiving end of this kind of talk. Perhaps it has happened to you. You walk into a room and everyone falls silent because you were the topic of conversation before you entered the room. Or you may have overheard a group saying unkind things about you when they didn’t notice you were nearby. Maybe you went home and cried. Maybe you were fuming mad. Remember how you felt and think about that before you say uncharitable things about others.

I once had a boss in New York, Dina, whom I admired very much. She was kind and very good at what she did. She was also one of the youngest directors in the company. We enjoyed a great relationship. She mentored me, and was very patient in teaching me the ropes of the job.

Soon, my co-workers began to spread innuendo about how Dina climbed up so quickly to the position of director. This innuendo began to become more explicit, until they came right out and told me that she had slept her way to the top. They claimed that she was having a relationship with Frank, the CEO.

At first, I was incredulous, but being young and impressionable, I began to look for signs to confirm this slander. When she would rush to a meeting with Frank, everyone would exchange meaningful looks. When she would leave the office early dressed for what seemed like a date, everyone assumed it was with Frank. Though I did not spread this gossip, it affected me to the extent that I began to lose respect for Dina. Sensing this, she began to distance herself from me. Eventually our great working relationship deteriorated. I resigned from the company.

When I think back on this now, I realize that I should have never entertained the gossip. I should not have listened to the malicious talk. Gossip is like garbage. You should not rummage through it, because it will leave you with its stench. Garbage is to be thrown away and not allowed to stay in your house (your heart).

As I got older, I learned how to refrain from this harmful practice of gossip. When I see that a conversation is moving in that direction I either excuse myself, change the topic, or simply say something like, “That is not my experience of her.” It usually stops people dead in their tracks. I also know whom to avoid because I already know that hanging out with them will surely lead to unwholesome talk. Finally, when I catch myself saying something uncharitable about someone else, I stop myself midstream, and pray a short prayer asking for forgiveness for myself, and blessings for the person I was disparaging.

Painting by Anita Magsaysay Ho