Gossip. We’ve all been a part of it one way or another. Maybe we were the person who had the big secret to share (by far the best role in any gossip situation) or we were the one who participated in it with wild abandon by agreeing with every word that was said and adding in our own judgments for good measure. At minimum, we were the one who “only” listened. There are lots of reasons that we participate in gossip, but the one big theme that seems to occur in all gossip situations is “comparison.” That’s right, good ‘ole fashioned comparison.
There are two types of comparisons that we typically make. One is the “downward social comparison,” the other the “upward social comparison.” When we use a downward social comparison, we dismiss the “other” as not as good as we are. This is easy to do. I mean, I obviously have my act together way more than my counterpart whose life is a total disaster; just look at her messy desk. This is the basic approach with gossip. When we make an upward social comparison, we see another as better than we are and envy sets in. So, what better way to get our status back than to “gossip” about this person too? Did you see how smug he was after giving that speech? It wasn’t that great. Come on, I couldn’t believe the audience gave a standing ovation!
You may be thinking right now that this was the big point of the post; the comparison part. But, it isn’t. The one thing that people don’t say about gossip is that it hurts. Here is an interesting thing to ponder (well, I think it’s interesting anyway). How did we ever discover this phenomenon we call gossip? Well, the only way we figured out this dynamic was that at some point, the horrible thing we said about another person must have gotten back to them. We forget that there is a high probability that the person being gossiped about is going to hear about it and feel hurt. Temporarily relieving ourselves means setting up conditions for others to experience pain. So even though we might have felt slightly better about ourselves in the moment as we gossiped (which by the way is never long-lasting…but we already know this because we’ve all tried it), the truth is that when it gets back to the other person, they are going to be hurt. And subsequently, so are we.
While gossip may relieve us temporarily, it never allows us to feel good about ourselves ultimately and thus, our vain attempts via the use of comparison remain thwarted. But what is one to do? I thought you would never ask! The next time you feel like gossiping ask yourself this question: is what I am about to say about this other person going to be helpful to everyone involved? If you don't have a “yes” to this question, don’t say it. Instead, ask yourself “what is it that I really want?” If it is ultimately to have something within you be appreciated, there is really only one person who can give that to you and that person is you. And if there is anything you need to clear up with that other person, go do that instead. You can learn more about how to clear up those difficult conversations by reading about the clearing model in the chapter on gossip in the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.