I’ve developed this really awful reputation.
The problem is that I am unwilling to change anything about myself.
You see, the people gossiping about me and the ones telling you how awful I am, are the same ones I decided were too judgmental, gossiped about everyone, including their own friends, and caused way too much drama. In fact, they were gossiping about me when I still thought we were friends.
I am not willing to put up with any of that simply to have friends.
Which brings me to defining the difference between gossip and telling your truth. There is a huge difference between the two and I am not certain that many people even know the distinction. You can tell your truth without spreading mean and malicious gossip. Allow me to enlighten.
When I am speaking to a friend about someone that I don’t particularly like, I try to shy away from judgmental comments. Even when I make a conscious effort to steer clear of talking about anyone with ill intent, sometimes it can’t be avoided. I still try not to say things like, “He’s a big fatty!” or “I hear she smells like vegetable soup when you hug her.” I leave those comments out of my conversation, even though I could be thinking them in my head, those aren’t meant to be said out loud. That would make my conversation into gossip, when my intent is simply to convey my own experience and how it adversely affected me.
Do you see the difference there?
If someone is simply telling you that I did something to them (to them, not to anyone else, just to them) and why they didn’t like it, then by all means, listen up. But if they are telling you stories involving personal tragedies, judgments or drama, then you are listening to gossip and most likely it’s their version of life and not the actual history.
Someone was relaying her version of a story to me once when she said, “Then she asked me about a mean story she heard about you and I told her it simply wasn’t my story to tell…”, and she went on to tell me a whole lot more of this story. I remember wondering exactly what wasn’t her story to tell, because it felt like she was telling a whole lot of stuff and a lot of things were being shared that evidently “weren’t her story to tell”. The worst part was that nothing she was telling me was nice. It was all bad and that wasn’t even the dilemma I ended up facing.
The dilemma was that after she finished slinging mud all over me, she backed away. It felt like she was telling me that she had completed her part of the mission, which was filling me in on the untrue trash being shared about me, and now she was done, spent, totally tuckered out. There was no mention of, “Hey! You are my friend! So I told her that I wanted the three of us to sit down and figure this out together. That’s what friends do with each other! Friends don’t say stuff like this behind each other’s backs!”
If you are going to tell your friend the horrible gossip being shared about them, you better be prepared to face the hurdle of setting the story straight with them. You better be the first one in line offering to stand up for them and to make it easy for your friend to share their truth. It’s true what they say; if you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.
Another example was listening to two women describe a marriage in trouble. “She said he abused her and she was scared to go home. We spent the entire day trying to find her an apartment and she never followed up on any of it. You know her better than we do! Did she tell you her husband abused her?” Getting over the initial shock of hearing these issues my friend was having in her marriage from anyone other than her was the first reeling impression of the conversation. The second impression was the rotten taste in my mouth that this was what these women wanted to talk about. My response? “Um no, I never got the impression that he abused her and she never discussed that with me, so I won’t be discussing it with you.” This was met with pursed lips and tut-tuts.
There’s nothing a gossip hates more than an unwilling participant. The only way you will stay clean in anything of this nature is if you shut it down. If you sit idly by and allow the gossip to escalate I can guarantee that once it gets shared again and again, your name will be included in the “Guess what she said…” and then you’ll be just as guilty as the rest of them.
There is something I call chatter. That’s when you’re just talking with your friends and they bring up something harmless about someone you don’t know. If they just want to express an opinion or a reason they feel a certain way and they use that as an example, then I see no harm there. It’s when the talk becomes judgmental and malicious that it becomes a problem.
A good rule I use to police myself is this, “Would I say that to their face?” If I won’t say it to their face, then there’s no reason I should say it to anyone else.
But I am not perfect! Oh no! I too have felt the draw to gossip and tell malicious stories about people I thought were getting away with something. One or two times I thought it might be okay to share gossip. I am here to tell you, it’s never a good idea unless you have no conscience or self respect.
One time I was trying to be harmless and still share something I thought was pretty heinous that I had heard, when the friend I was talking to started questioning what I was telling her. All I was doing was repeating what I had been told and not embellishing it at all. The story was so “out there” that to embellish it would have taken way too much creativity on my part, so I just stuck with what I was told. My friend was skeptical and I found that I was quickly having to defend myself. I wasn’t lying, but she made me feel like I was making it all up just to have something to tell her.
I kept asking myself why she would think I was making it up, but the simple answer is that people who gossip on a regular basis have absolutely no problem making it up as they go along! I remember listening while my good friend was telling me a story. Her boyfriend interrupted her midway through the story and asked, “Is this what really happened or is this one of your versions?” I remember feeling kind of duped. What else had she shared with me that was simply “her version” and not the truth? Do you see how that works?
By the time I learned that lesson I not only felt the need to shower, I wanted to vomit. I felt gullible for believing the original story and stupid for repeating it. The worst part was losing the respect of the friend I was talking to. That felt like punishment, but what could I do? Even though I knew I’d never do that again and I even told my friend that, once it’s out there in the Universe, it’s out there. Live and learn.
So go ahead and listen to the malicious gossip if you feel so inclined, but be prepared to listen to some of it come back around and be about you. That’s how gossip works…you can listen, you can even participate and maybe add some of your own unpleasant experiences to the mix, but mark my words here…the minute you turn your back, they’ll be saying the same nasty things about you and some of them will be inclined to add their own slant just to juice it up a bit.
It’s never going to be okay to gossip if you’re trying to hurt someone, because the person you end up hurting most is yourself.
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