This Wednesday: Six dodges for pretending that you’re not gossiping, when you really are.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six dodges for pretending that you’re not gossiping, when you really are.

I’d never considered gossiping one of my particular faults. Sure, from time to time I said something behind someone’s back, but not often. Right? Wrong.

As so often happens with the Happiness Project, it was only when I made a point to quit this bad habit that I realized how ingrained it was.

By “gossip,” I mean “making unkind remarks behind the back of someone I know.” Saying, “Paris Hilton is trashy” doesn’t count as gossip, and saying “Elizabeth Craft is a brilliant TV writer” doesn’t count.

We all know that we shouldn’t gossip, so sometimes we try to disguise the fact that that’s what we’re doing. Here are some common dodges I know I’ve used to justify gossip:

1.“I’m just concerned.”
“I’m worried about her, she seems unhappy, I wonder if she got a bad evaluation.” “Those two never seem to do anything together, I hope their marriage isn’t in trouble.”

2. “I’m thoughtfully analyzing to my friend’s character.”
“Do you think he’s so arrogant because his mother pushed him so hard as a child?” “Do you think she spends so much money on clothes because she feels some kind of lack in her life?”

3. “I’m entitled to my opinion.”
“That party was too lavish for a bunch of six-year-olds.” “The hors d’oeuvres were terrible.” “He’s such a pompous bore.”

4. “I’m passing along information that a lot of people already know.”
“They’re fighting over custody.” “He’s gained at least twenty pounds.”

5. “I’m just relaying a conversation.”
“He said, ‘I’m thinking about quitting,’ and I said, ‘Can you afford to quit?’ and he said….” “She told me that they spent more than $10,000…”

6. “I’m not gossiping, you are.”
“So what did you think of what she was wearing?” “Did the CEO think they bombed the presentation?”

Here’s the test of whether something is gossip or not: if I wouldn’t want the person who's the subject of the conversation to overhear what I’m saying, I shouldn’t be saying it.

Research shows that gossip is actually an important social force. It strengthens social bonds; it’s a mechanism for the formulation and enforcement of values; it provides punishment for wrongdoers.

I’m sure that’s true. Gossiping really does make you feel closer to the people with whom you’re gossiping. And by talking about other people’s actions, you get a clearer sense of people’s values. There are occasions when gossip is appropriate. But often it’s just rude, two-faced, and mean-spirited.

Since I’ve cut down on gossiping (I can’t claim to have quit), I’ve noticed a change in myself that I didn’t expect: I feel less paranoid that people might be angry at me, or that I’ve done something wrong. I feel kinder and gentler. I feel less judgmental.

I did carve out a marital exception, and I’ll still say gossipy things to the Big Man that I wouldn’t say to anyone else. Is that progress?

This post was hard to write, because I’m ashamed to admit to gossiping. Maybe this confession will help me stick to my resolution.

I get a kick out of the blog Communicatrix. It's hard to describe what it's about, has a strong sensibility, it's very funny, it's fun to look at the pictures, that's good enough for me.

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