If there was one thing you could eliminate about the way people around you interact and relate, what would it be? Would you get rid of the way some people criticize others? How about when some people are rude or inconsiderate? In your mind, what is the one thing that is the worst for relationships?
In my experience, the single thing that is the most damaging, the most harmful to most relationships is gossip. It is a relationship atomic bomb, unparalleled in its incredible destructive power.
Gossip is defined as “idle talk or rumor, especially about personal or private affairs of others.” It’s sticking our noses into the business of others. It’s poking into someone’s dirt. It’s being an inquiring mind, when it’s quite possibly (and often likely) none of our business to know. And worst of all, it’s sharing what we didn’t need to know in the first place.
In the classic book The Magic of Thinking Big, author David J. Schwartz, PhD has several thoughts about gossip, calling it “thought poison.”
Thought poison is subtle, but it accomplishes “big” things. It reduces the size of our thinking by forcing us to concentrate on petty, unimportant things.
In another place, Dr. Schwartz defines gossip, writing,
Gossip is just negative conversation about people, and the victim of thought poison begins to think he enjoys it. He seems to get a form of poisoned joy from talking negatively about others, not knowing that to successful people he is becoming increasingly unlikable, and unreliable.
Never met a leader who made a habit of gossiping & I’ve never met a gossiper who made a habit of leading. #success
A person who gossips spreads poison and blames others for the fallout. #gossip #rumors #relationships
The fallout of gossip can be as broad as the number of people involved. It damages and even breaks relationships, causes multitudes of hurt feelings and untold numbers of misunderstandings.
I remember as a schoolgirl, there was some gossip about another person and myself. The rumors were I had said something about my friend that was cruel and mean. They were completely untrue! But my friend, and our group of friends, believed them. No matter how insistent my denials, how strong my protests, they didn’t believe me, and I spent the rest of my senior year of high school ostracized from my former friends. I never reconciled with them, and now cannot with some, as they have since died. Gossip caused my friendships to be shattered beyond repair forever.
Since gossip is so damaging, how do we avoid it? One rule my grandmother and mother both taught me as a girl seems appropriate here. When tempted to gossip, they taught me to ask myself, “Would I say it if that person were present?“
Let’s go back to see what David J. Schwartz, PhD has to say for a personal gossip test from The Magic of Thinking Big:
- Do I spread rumors about other people?
- Do I always have good things to say about others?
- Do I like to hear reports of a scandal?
- Do I judge others only on the basis of facts?
- Do I encourage others to bring their rumors to me?
- Do I precede my conversations with, “Don’t tell anybody”?
- Do I keep confidential information confidential?
- Do I feel guilty about what I have to say concerning other people?
Dr. Schwartz follows this list with his Golden Rule of human behavior, “Go First Class.” We all have an innate knowledge of what First Class means. It’s the best of everything money can buy. In relationships, Go First Class means to be a person of trust, honor, integrity, character and class. It means to be able to answer the questions of the gossip test with a resounding “NO” because that would be against everything you believe in and practice. To Go First Class in our relationships means we are trustworthy friends, loyal and faithful.
When our friends know the relationship atomic bomb of gossip won’t be dropped on them, it gives them security in our relationships. It means our friends know they can count on us to hear deep intimacies, knowing their secrets won’t go anywhere else.
If you struggle with gossip, I urge you to take my words to heart, and apply Dr. Schwartz’s test to your conversations. Don’t forget, it’s not just a matter of not saying it. It’s also a matter of what you will accept being told. Let us walk together, speaking truthfully, in love, and without the thought poison of gossip.