Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rumor Has It

Gossip is defined as "a rumor or report of an intimate nature" or "a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others."

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I reveal a lot, but really only about myself--not other people. 

I am accustomed to keeping secrets. My job as a lawyer ethically requires it. And my mom's job as a psychiatrist set an example for me in placing a high premium on confidentiality. 

I would beg to go to work with my mom. I would promise to sit quietly in her office and color while she met with her patients. I would plead with her to disclose the identity of the occasional celebrity I knew she treated. Of course she always refused, and so I absorbed the value of keeping a secret, and the importance of resisting the urge to gossip. I don't always successfully resist that urge, but I try.

There's an expression that "great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about other people." I don't exactly agree with those characterizations, because I don't think they're helpful; they assign flaws to someone's character where flaw should be assigned to the topic of conversation instead.

But I do think it's a pretty bad habit to gossip; to reveal things another person told you in confidence; to repeat secondhand information of suspect veracity; or to talk about other peoples' lives just to fill silence or make idle chatter. It can be tempting--very tempting--to do that. But it's a temptation worth resisting.

Avoiding gossip is a conscious practice for me, so I have a list of five rules to help me do it:

1. I try to listen more than I talk: I talk about myself enough, certainly since I started this blog, so when I am with someone, I try to listen to what they have to say, instead of bombarding them with information about myself--or worse--other people.

2. I try to do unto others: It's the oldest schoolyard rule in the book, but I try to follow it when I ask myself if I'd want the same topic being broached about me, out of my own earshot.

3. I try to set an example for my kids: Little pitchers have big ears, as they say, but I want my kids to learn that gossiping is not a great way to strike up or sustain a conversation. I want to encourage my kids to talk about ideas, or even things, but not other people's business.

4. I try to resist the "brownie": Gossip is like a delicious brownie. It's tempting and unhealthy. It's something you can put out on the table and everyone will enjoy it and gobble it up. But is it worth it? Not usually, or not metaphorically at least. I'd rather eat a real brownie instead.

5.  I try to listen objectively: The truth is subjective, especially when it comes to human relationships, and there are many sides to every story. A given version of a story (including your own) is rarely reliable because it's never objective. And if that's the case, then gossiping just disseminates one particular subjective version of events--it doesn't actually communicate any real information.

Bottom line, I have noticed that the less I gossip, the more I learn, and the richer my life becomes.

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