After hours spent devouring J-14, Tiger Beat, and Teen People, there was one thing my 12-year-old self could say with absolute certainty: gossiping was fun.
Could you BELIEVE J-Lo’s outfit that week? And did you hear that TV’s beloved “newlyweds” Jessica and Nick broke up? (I’m still not over that, by the way.) Being in the know and having all the latest information was thrilling, and I loved it. I was an avid participator in “Who Wore it Best” polls, a “Compare People” (does anyone else remember this absolutely horrific app?!) addict, and a serial magazine-at-the-check-out-line browser.
I’ll be truthful: I still have a weakness for pop culture. I still like to be in the know. Honestly, I’m still probably a little nosy! But I learned pretty early on, thankfully, that gossip hurts — and that there is always someone (even if it’s someone who is seemingly untouchable, like a celebrity) on the other side of every rumor, jab, and hushed whisper.
What Counts as Gossip, Anyway?
I think the Wikipedia definition of “gossip” is my favorite: “Gossip is idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others; the act is also known as dishing or tattling.”
Yoga Journal takes it one step further: “Harmful speech, as defined in Buddhism and other traditions, is anything you communicate that could needlessly and pointlessly hurt others.”
To that end, I want to make something clear: there is a significant difference between talking about someone in a positive or informative way (i.e. “Do you like this teacher? What is he like?” or “Tell me more about this guy that you want me to go on a date with!”) and badmouthing/spreading rumors about someone; it’s the latter that you want to avoid.
Being on the Receiving End
I’ve had several experiences where I’ve realized how hurtful gossip can be, but the first and maybe most poignant happened when I was just a kindergartener. My grandma told a story (my memory of this entire event is pretty fuzzy) about six-year-old me bursting into the house after school sobbing, tears streaking my chubby little face.
“Gina* (name changed) told me on the bus that Mom and Dad are getting divorced! That’s not true, is it?”
Grandma said her heart broke. It WAS true, but my parents hadn’t told us yet.
Someone close to my parents must have told someone who told someone who told their kids (a real-life game of telephone!) that my mom and dad were separating. Because of that, my parents didn’t get to tell me about their separation in their own time and in their own way. While the rumor was true, whoever was spreading it didn’t pause to think about the personal nature of the rumor and the effects it might have for the people on the other end.
Later, when I was a teenager, I remember a baseless rumor circulating about one of my friends that she was having inappropriate relations with one of our teachers, who was a devoted husband and father. It was totally unfounded and not true, but even still, I remember seeing how it hurt her as she wondered how people could ever even think she had done something like that.
From those experiences and others, it became all too clear: maybe gossiping about others felt fun in the moment, but being gossiped about was anything but fun.
Gossip Destroys Relationships
LDS Blogs writer Patty Sampson wrote a blog post that I’m obsessed with (and that was the inspiration for this article) entitled “How to Stop Gossiping and Be Someone Everyone Wants to Be Around.” In it, she wrote about her personal quest to give up gossiping, her favorite pastime.
“Getting back to Jody Moore [of the “Better Than Happy” podcast] because she said it so beautifully, “Gossip is a false temporary pleasure” that damages relationships. I had ladies at work that I would gossip with at lunch. We would sit around and tear others down for whatever reason, and I thought we were bonding.
But honestly, I could never tell them anything real about my life because I knew it would get ground up into the rumor mill. Even though we were trying to find connection, we were destroying any chance at really becoming friends — and we didn’t even realize it.”
When I read this, I instantly thought of a few people in my own life with whom I’ve had this experience — people that I like, but that I know I can’t share personal stories with for the fear of them being spread around.
I never want to be that person for someone else.
So how do we let go of gossiping, even when it feels fun?
Make Like Dieter and STOP IT
Okay, I was actually really proud of that subheading and if I could give myself an award for it, I would.
In case you didn’t watch the video, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf once gave a talk where he emboldened us all by giving us the greatest (and snappiest) mantra ever: “STOP IT.”
This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
He goes on to say that we need to replace habits like gossip with “a heart full of love for God and His children.”
So how do we replace our natural-man tendencies of judging with a heart full of love? How do we get to a point where we don’t WANT to gossip?
Here are some ideas:
1. Replace the Negatives with Positives
When I was in high school, I made a conscientious effort to not gossip or speak badly about other people. (This probably sounds like a self-brag, but I honestly don’t think that I’m as good at it today as I was then, so…. Whoops. But I really am trying!) One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten in my life came from a good friend of mine who noticed my avoidance of gossip.
“You know what I really admire about you? Whenever people start talking badly about someone else, you always mention something positive about that person. I think it makes everyone take a step back and it turns the conversation in a different direction.”
That meant so much to me, and is something I’ve since always tried to model my conversations after.
So here’s how it goes:
Friend: “Did you notice Sarah’s leggings today? She could barely fit into them!”
Your response: “Oh, I’ve always really liked Sarah! She’s always been so nice to me. Speaking of leggings, though, did you see that Target is having a huge sale on all print leggings?”
Maybe that seems weird or too obvious, but I’ve never had anyone get annoyed with me for saying things like this. Worst-case scenario, the gossipers won’t gossip around you anymore, and that’s probably a good thing, anyway. Regardless of any apprehension you might feel, turning the conversation in a different direction — one that doesn’t criticize or belittle people — is always a good idea, and will leave you feeling better than any amount of gossip will.
2. Check the Source
One of the biggest problems with gossip is that a lot of times, it’s not even true (like in the case with my teenage friend and our teacher). So when you hear a rumor about someone, try pausing and reflecting; question what you hear. Don’t hop on the bandwagon of believing every piece of gossip that you hear, and try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Remember that people are “innocent until proven guilty.”
3. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Stop and ask yourself, “How would I feel if this rumor was circulating about me?” or “What would I have done if in this same situation?” In my experience, attempting to understand another person’s point of view will stop you in your gossipy tracks, making you want to help rather than continuing spreading what are probably half-truths (if that!).
4. Consider Your Own Motives
Yoga Journal’s advice on this particular aspect of gossip is fantastic:
“Perhaps you suspect that you’re a little bit addicted to gossip. If you want to change a gossip habit, it’s a good idea to start by taking an honest look at what you get out of it and what motivation lies behind your impulse. Part of the thrill of gossip—any gossip—is simply the pleasure of being in on a secret. With negative gossip, there’s another hook: It’s comforting to feel that you’re not the only person who makes mistakes, suffers losses, fails. Somehow, knowing that Jennifer Aniston got dumped makes you feel a little better about your own painful breakup.
Talking about other people can also be a way to avoid looking at something difficult or painful in yourself. A woman on a family vacation found herself complaining about her sister-in-law’s casual parenting style. Only later did she realize that her sister-in-law’s way of handling the kids had brought up her own insecurities about parenting, and that she’d used gossip as a way of keeping her maternal insecurity at bay.
It’s not always an easy thing to admit, but behind most negative gossip, especially when it’s about friends, relatives, or colleagues, is some form of jealousy.”
This struck a chord with me because I have fallen into this trap over and over. It’s so easy to compare ourselves with others; then, when we feel like we don’t measure up, we try to find a way to tear them down to what we think is “our level” or beneath it.
I want to stop gossiping, though; I want to have confidence in myself so that I don’t need to seek reprieve in others’ shortcomings. Most of all, I want to treat and talk about others like Christ would: recognizing their infinite potential as sons and daughters of God — and I hope you’ll join me.
Have any more tips about how to eliminate gossip from your life and conversations? Leave them in the comments below!