In one of his insightful articles on Hodu.com, Dan Bobinski recalls an incident when he was employed at a certain workplace, where his boss’s daughter would “help out” during the summer to earn money for college. There was something he didn’t like about this young lady, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“That is”, he writes, “until one day when she was talking with me as she walked behind me down a hallway. I could not see her face, I only heard her voice, and her words were terribly biting and demeaning regarding a fellow employee.
“Shocked at what I heard, I turned around and questioned her comment. Her response was to look at me with feigned innocence and say, ‘but I said it with a smile.’
“Unbelievable. I realized her ‘concerned’ facial expressions were nothing but camouflage for her deep cutting words.
“It was then that I realized what I didn’t like about her…”
Gossip, of course, can be very hurtful to people. In fact – whether we are aware of it or not or whether we want to acknowledge it ot not – it usually is. And we are not just talking about emotional hurt. The damage can be practical and real, wreaking havoc with people’s careers, their ambitions, their relationships…or even worse.
And the damage can occur whether the juicy bits of information are exaggerated, are completely false, or completely factual. It makes no difference. Even worse, the damage can last a life time. In short, gossip is a form of violence, nothing less.
In a recent column, life coach Peter Vajda writes that he has been in numerous workplace situations where gossip was the norm – even though, when asked, people in these workplaces would insist that gossip was something they disapproved of! Furthermore, even after a formal meetings where the seriousness of pernicious gossip was explained to them in detail, after internalizing its consequences at sensitivity workshops, and after solemnly pledging never to indulge in the habit again…well, they still continue to gossip!
So the question is, why do people – even good people – do it? Can’t they help themselves?
Vajda explains that “gossip is a form of attack which often arises from an individual’s conscious or unconscious fears. For some people, a commitment ‘not to gossip’ is easily diluted by their fears, anxieties and concerns about what their life might be like if they stopped gossiping: ‘Who would I be then?’ ‘What would I do?’ ‘How would I be one of the guys’ ‘Would I have to eat lunch alone?’ ‘Would I lose all my friends?’”
In other words, feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem are the prime causes of this disease, whether in the workplace or elsewhere.
”Stopping the practice of talking about others can be a big challenge for many people” adds Vajda “because they’re simply not able to be authentic in life. As a result, many revert to gossiping as a self-defense mechanism, using it as a self-protection device so they never have to be vulnerable, or disclose information about their feelings or emotions, or open up… These folks use gossip as a strategy for protecting against revealing their real selves.”
Thus, precisely because gossip is a behavior based on fear, the most sincere resolution never again to engage in its practice quickly evaporates when put to the test.
The solution? Very little that’s worthwhile in life is easily achieved, and certainly not affecting a change in an established character trait. Yet, considering the stakes, a supreme effort must be made. As Vajda says, we have to heal the split between our outer selves and inner selves. And above all, we have to internalize and be fully conscious of the destruction our violence is perpetrating.
And stop ourselves before it is too late.
Azriel Winnett is the author of the highly acclaimed, eye-opening book How to Build Relationships That Stick. An enhanced edition is now available as a paperback.