DESTRUCTIVENESS OF GOSSIP
Philip Holder PhD.
Excerpts from The Destructiveness of Gossip, copyright Dr. Philip Holder. All Rights Reserved
People often advocate for laws and controls ranging from gun control to penalties for spanking your own children as well as hundreds of other things, claiming that these acts are destructive. How come we never hear about advocacy for “Mouth Control”. There are few things with the potential to be more destructive than gossip.
Once a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun it cannot be called back. Words are similar. Once harmful, invasive, destructive, thoughtless, or unkind words leave someone’s mouth, the damage is done. Even if the person harmed forgives, it might be impossible to repair the damage done by those words.
I have no idea who wrote the following story (It wasn’t me), but I want to share it with you.
“NAIL IN THE FENCE”
There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His Father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.” A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one. Friends are very rare jewels, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share words of praise and they always want to open their hearts to us.” Please forgive me if I have ever left a hole.
Gossip is destructive. It serves only as ego gratification, self indulgence and entertainment, at the expense of another. I guess the old saying “misery enjoys company” would be appropriate. I believe that people who gossip are displaying a tremendous lack of self esteem and a lack of self discipline. At some level, by bringing others down, they feel it makes them look bigger when fact it only puts them in a position where other people can better see them for the shallow person they really are. Another reason (again related to low self esteem), is that the person feels that as, the conveyer of information, people will like to listen to what they have to say. Some people may listen. That doesn’t mean that listening to the gossip will endear the gossiper to them. In fact, most people will think… If he or she is talking about this person, what is he or she saying about me when I’m not around. That being said, listening to gossip is harmful as well. As a willing participant the listener is in effect enabling the gossiper. A kind person of maturity and integrity respects the privacy of others.
Not all truths are useful. I once had someone take this statement totally out of context and accuse me of implying that we should lie to each other. That is not at all what I am saying so allow me to explain in no uncertain terms what I mean.
Let’s assume that there was an auto accident and that you were the first passerby to arrive on the scene. You attempt to help a victim who was in the accident discovering that he is severely injured. In fact, it would appear that the injuries are so severe that he could easily die from his injuries. The victim begins to panic. I don’t think it would be the best plan under the circumstances to say to that person, “Well, looks like you’ll be dead soon. Man, you are really messed up”. Personally, I would be more inclined to say, “Be calm and help will be here soon. You’re going to be fine”. My goal would be to keep the person calm and to increase the person’s chance for survival. As well, not all things one knows needs to be said. My father used to tell me when I was a kid, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything”. Hurtful words or invading someone’s privacy never helped anyone.
RESPECTING PEOPLE’S PRIVACY
Just because you know something doesn’t mean that you’re obligated to tell others about it… especially when it is about the personal life of another. Other people’s lives and personal business do not exist for our personal entertainment and/or amusement. When you were a child, did you ever play this game? You and your friends would get in a line or perhaps a circle. The first person would whisper a secret to the person next to him or her. That person would then do the same to the person on the other side of him or her and so on. When the secret got to the last person in line, that person had to say the secret out loud and compare that version to the one originally told. The laugh was, that the final secret was always significantly different than the original. In life, that is rarely a laughing matter.
If someone gets a thrill out of invading the privacy of others, then it is likely that he or she is not content with their own life, is insecure and/or has very low self esteem. Their time would be better spent working on those issues rather than treading on the privacy of others. If you are ever tempted to gossip, ask yourself this… To What End, To What Benefit, And Why Would I Ever Consider Doing That! I’m sure that you will find no ethical and/or responsible reason for gossiping. Shunning gossip and choosing your words wisely is one way that you can show your level of integrity.