Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Gossip - Part Two

Lots of feedback on my blog about gossip. That's good. Someone is reading my blog! Gossip. What is the first thing that come into your mind when you hear that word? It is apparent by the e-mails I've received about my blog on gossip, that the word gossip means different things to different people. My sister-in-law Barbara sent me a articulate and well thought out e-mail explaining why she doesn't engage in "gossip." She gave me the example of a lady friend she is helping with her computer skills. This woman often discusses with her "some problem with one of their kids or something else, just needing a listening ear." Barbara states that she would never repeat what she says to someone else as it could cause family problems for them. "One never know who know and who will repeat things yet again and they will get back to the person about whom you were speaking and cause hurt feelings. She needs my support and prayers, not my repeating and spreading what she has said." Of course I agree with Barbara, I would never repeat anything someone told me in confidence, even if they didn't mention that it was in confidence. Where I work, I frequently am on the listening end from one or another of my co-workers about some grievance they have against another co-worker or the owner. Never, never, never would I repeat anything I heard to another co-worker. I would not even repeat this information to my friends because they don't know my co-workers and it wouldn't be fair to them to tell complete strangers their personal business. To me this is just common sense. I have the same rule with friends, I would never repeat what one friend said to me about another friend (unless it was complimentary.) Why cause hurt feelings and what is to be gained by passing on such information? However, where I take exception with the advice my sister-in-law gave me was her advice "Talk about the weather, music, politics, even yourself if you have to, or talk about someone who is present." Okay, I'm going to wait until Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama is present so I can talk about them? This just isn't practical. I am a human being with opinions and live in a country where we have the free will to express such opinions. For instance, one of my friends recently went through a very traumatic breakup of a long time relationship. When another mutual friend asks how this person was doing, I gave my honest opinion. I didn't change the subject to weather just because he wasn't at the table "to defend himself." My opinion (which could be way off base) was that he was handling his breakup as well as could be but that he still carried a deep seated anger at being deceived for so long. We have all discussed this situation. The same was true of a situation I had a few weeks ago with friends I have dinner with on Sunday night at the Purple Parrot in Rehoboth Beach. Things were going along fine until I took offense to something a friend said. I overreacted and caused a scene. The next two weeks I did not attend the weekly meeting of friends. Did they talk about me in my absence? I would think so. I doubt that they would talk only of the weather of some other benign subject. Do I take offense that they talked about me without me being present? No. I expected them to talk. How else would they resolve the issue? Last week one of the group asked me to attend the Sunday dinner. I did. Did they talk about me after I left? I'm sure they did. Do I object? No, it is part of life. Now, if I told one of them something in confidence, which I have on occasion, and that information was passed on I would be upset. However, I believe I have a good group of friends who would never betray a confidence as I wouldn't betray their confidence. Have I made mistakes in the past? Yes. One time I mentioned to another party that my friend recently went through a breakup. That was a misjudgement on my part for which I was properly and duly chastised by my friend. Will I make mistakes in the future? I hope not but it could happen. The best I can do, and will endeavor to do with all my will power, is to respect the confidences of my friends but, at the same time I will continue to live, observe life around me, have opinions, and express those opinions. To me that is freedom. There is more to my life than just talking about the weather, politics and myself (how boring is that?) As another friend of mine stated:

It is the nature of the human beast to share in gossip--the malicious thing is the quality of gossip. I don't believe you would ever intentionally hurt another, in fact I would err on the side of good--you would try and preserve the integrity of the person just by your nature. And that is why you wouldn't make a good politician!

She knows me well. While I am by no means a perfect person, it is the "nature of the human beast to share in gossip". I would never engage in malicious gossip nor intentionally hurt another. When one engages in that sort of activity, it has a tendency to come back on them. No good comes of that kind of activity.
I just received a phone call from a friend of mine. She is going to Pennsylvania to see her friend whose husband is dying. Is she engaging in gossip with me? I don't know these other people personally. I've never met them. Should I instead discuss the weather with her since her friend wasn't present during this conversation? When she told me this information, I told her that friend's sister died over the weekend after a short illness. He knew she was dying and made a trip to visit her one last time. Am I engaging in gossip because he wasn't present during this conversation with my friend on the phone this morning who he has never personally met? I think not. If my life consisted of just discussing weather and politics, and, even worse, myself, what a dull boy I would be.
There are various views and definitions on gossip. Perhaps the following definitions from Wikipedia explain it the best:
Various views on gossip:
Some see gossip as trivial, hurtful and socially and/or intellectually unproductive. The Bahá'í Faith, for instance, refers to gossip as backbiting, and condemns and prohibits the practice, viewing it as a cause of disunity.
Some people view gossip as a lighthearted way of spreading information.
In a more sinister interpretation, restrictions on gossip could potentially paralyse the free flow of information and enforce
straight-jacketed thinking and censorship in a community. The term "gossip" typically labels discussion the speaker disapproves of ("I discuss, you speculate, he gossips"). Compare freedom of speech
A feminist definition of gossip presents it as "a way of talking between women, intimate in style, personal and domestic in scope and setting, a female cultural event which springs from and perpetuates the restrictions of the female role, but also gives the comfort of validation." (Jones, 1990:243)
Perhaps the word "gossip" isn't the correct definition of what the information and opinions I am sharing. I am in the group that views gossip as a lighthearted way of spreading information. I prefer the free flow of ideas and not be a subject to straight-jacketed thinking and censorship in a community. Thus, I will continue to engage in one of the most precious freedoms in this country, freedom of speech. I just won't yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater.

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