The first three tools of the Door County Civility Project which were pay attention, listen, and be inclusive asked that you take positive verbal steps in your communications. The fourth tool asks that you not do something-Don’t Gossip. The definition of gossip and opinions of gossip are quite confusing. Here are a few: idle talk, small talk, chatty talk, hearsay, all of which amount to much of our daily talk with family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. As such the opinion is that it is a light hearted way of spreading information and helps to build social networks. Another definition includes rumor especially about personal or private affairs of others, sometimes to specifically refer to the spreading of dirt and misinformation. Additional related words are betrayer, blabbermouth, newsmonger, tale-teller, informant, snitch, tattle-tale. Here gossip is seen as trivial, hurtful and socially and/or intellectually unproductive.
Let’s first consider how this confusion has affected our attitudes towards gossip. Being naturally curious, we want to learn personal things about others, primarily from a caring point of view. Our interest can be seen on a spectrum: some mildly interested and will listen when someone presents us with some gossip, some increasingly interested and more in search of gossip, and those who are driven to any type of gossip. Most of us do not want to see ourselves as the gossiper as that person seems to have a more negative connotation. Yet gossip has an enticing element.
Gossip is not a new phenomenon. It has always been a part on human communication. Newspapers had “gossip columns” which provided details of the social and personal lives of celebrities and the elite. Magazines like the National Enquirer are for sale as we wait in line at the grocery store, telling tale after tale of persons of interest. With radio and TV we can hear gossip from trivial to serious. Two, I remember from my teens. Paul is dead, Paul is dead referring to the Beatle, Paul McCartney. Sir Paul is alive and well. The second one was that JFK was still alive and on some island. With the Warren Report not to be opened for a long time, no one knew what was true. Today with the internet, gossip is widespread at an instant basis. Yet when we learn of the harm of gossip to an innocent person, many will condemn gossip.
Perhaps we need to consider the intent of the gossip. It is one thing to provide information, and quite another to want to hurt or harm someone. Let’s look at three situations where gossip is used to harm someone. First is the bullying that exists in our schools. One of the aspects of bullying is describing someone in negative terms. This can be done with whispers, notes to other students, things written on bathroom walls, and now statements on the internet.
Second, there is a lot written about gossip that occurs at the workplace. Here is a list of the negative consequences.
1. Lost productivity and worked time.
2. Erosion of trust and morale.
3. Increased anxiety among employees as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is fact and what is not.
4. Growing divisiveness among employees as people take sides.
5. Hurt feelings and reputations.
6. Jeopardize chances for the gossipers advancement as they are perceived as unprofessional.
7. Attrition as good employees leave due to the unhealthy work environment.
Thirdly we see gossip used in our political world. Voters are unable to evaluate the candidates because they are unable to determine what is fact and what is fallacy. There is no discussion of the issues and concerns of our county. Millions of dollars are spent on lies. And finally our country is not solving problems and making decisions.
I liked best what was said on Kids Health about gossip. They tried to separate talk and gossip. Talk is how we spread thought, ideas, and experience. This kind of communication is acceptable and positive. Gossip is saying something that is mean, telling something that you are not sure is true or sharing information that is to remain private. This is the kind of communication that we need to stop.
Let’s all stop the gossip.
Orlaine I. Gabert
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