Yonks ago, I wrote a breakdown of Julian Treasures’ 7 Deadly Sins of Speaking, which is basically a list of what not to do if you want to be truly heard when you speak. One of these sins is gossip – and I’d like to address this topic today.
I’ve always been a gossiper, hailing from a long-line of gossipers in fact. In my family, it was very much expected to be pleasant and polite in the company of others – no matter how detestable their company was. Manners and etiquette were to be upheld, at all costs. As soon as the aforementioned detestables were out of sight, however, it was a no-holds-barred bitch-fest. And I loved it!
As I grew older, the gossiping continued. I figured it was a positive way of letting off steam. Sounding off about someone, rather than to them, meant that the person in question didn’t get hurt.
Of course, every now and then I’d slip up. And someone would indeed get hurt.
I’m particularly ashamed of a bitching session I had in the first year of university, which was overheard by the roommate being spoken about. No, she wasn’t my kind of person and yes, I did find her slightly annoying. But there was no way she deserved the kind of ‘mean girls’ crap we said about her. When she confronted me, telling me that she’d overheard everything we’d said; as I felt my two-faced mask burn into my skin; I knew that I’d been kidding myself to think that this kind of behaviour was harmless. I physically shook at having both being found-out and of having taken part in such horrible behaviour in the first place.
I’d like to say that this was a turning point, but it wasn’t. I made the same mistakes again and again.
Perhaps it was the people-pleaser in me. I’d bond with friends by slating others, but never had the heart (or balls) to be cruel to a persons’ face. Such is the dilemma of us gossipy, two-faced folk.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a time and a place for letting off some steam when someone has really pissed you off, especially when it’s with those within your inner-circle. And I don’t believe in honesty at all-costs; that can be just as cruel.
But I won’t kid myself now that there isn’t a high cost to gossip. Aside from the fact that it makes people listening wonder if you’ll gossip about them, weakening the trust in your relationships, it also allows your own mind to wonder if anyone indeed is saying what they really mean. After all, aren’t they all just pretending like you?
You basically learn that people aren’t to be trusted.
And here, I sit, as someone who has struggled with social anxiety and self-doubt throughout my life; someone who could really believe complements and praise; someone who would (and occasionally still does) stew over subtle body language cues, tones of voice, wording of texts…. wondering what that people really means; really thinks; really feels.
The connection suddenly seems so obvious.
I grew up speaking ill of others but being nice to their face. So duh! No wonder I grew up assuming that people were only being nice sarcastically; that they didn’t really like me; that they really thought my presentations were shit; that I was a boring person; that I was ugly; that I was bla bla bla bla bla.
I’m not looking to blame anyone here – not even myself. Just making an observation.
I will say though that luckily, as I’ve grown I have encountered plenty of good, honest and kind people. I use these people as role models. They remind me that not everybody thinks as I did; that actually many people want the best for those around them, without judgement.
And I definitely gossip less nowadays. Because I want to be one of those people too.