Gossip is a lot trickier than we usually think. From our grade school days, we’ve all seen the “gossip hurts” poster and talked about “mean girls” and how it’s not cool to say mean things behind someone’s back. So blah, blah, blah, we get the point. Just don’t be a jerk. Done.
But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve noticed the huge grey area that they left out in grade school. The issue with gossip is not the ill-spirited trash talking. The kind where you know you’re talking behind someone’s back, and if they heard you, they would be devastated. We all know when we’re being mean bullies.
The problem is the gossiping you do when you have the best of intentions. “Gossiping” about your friends? Does that even count?
Let’s paint a picture here:
You’re out with your girls and someone just spilled the news that one of your mutual friends just broke up with her serious boyfriend. Being the awesome friend that you are, you want to know why this happened so you can best be there for your friend. Totally benevolent intentions. But before you know it, you’ve been sitting there for 2 hours going into every single detail of analyzing the nature of a relationship you weren’t a part of… Wait, what?
Think back a bit. We’ve all definitely done this before, and we probably didn’t even feel bad about it. We want a heads up on major events so we can be there for our friends and avoid saying the wrong thing out of sheer ignorance. So in this case, sharing is caring, right?
Well… maybe not.
So what even is gossip then??
If you Google “definition of gossip,” the first thing you get is: “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”
Notice that there is absolutely zero indication of intention in this definition. It doesn’t say “…conversation with ill-spirited intent.” So trying to be a good friend doesn’t make it not gossip. When you talk about the details of someone else’s life, especially if these details are alleged, you are gossiping. Plain and simple.
So how do we avoid this while still trying to get that heads up on major news?
Again, this is a little tricky. My rules are:
Strictly police that conversation as being only about true facts.
(Ex: Jane and John broke up last weekend.)
Specify if you are not sure.
(Ex: I don’t know for a fact because I wasn’t there, but Susie told me they had a fight over his ex-girlfriend)
Keep all opinions and speculations out.
(Ex: Their relationship was between the two of them so I can’t draw any conclusions about it.)
Always keep the focus of the conversation around the fact that you are a friend to the subject of the conversation.
(Ex: I just hope Jane is doing alright and I’m glad I know about the breakup so I can now support her in any way that she needs).
Another good rule of thumb: if you’re discussing the same subject for more than 20 minutes, change the subject. There can’t be that many known facts to go on about for 20 minutes.
Is this advice fool-proof? No. There are plenty of situations and scenarios when, even while following these guidelines, the conversation can still be negative gossip even with good intentions. But this is a good way to police yourself and hold yourself and your friends accountable for what is said about others. No one is perfect, but we’re all doing our best to become better people and better friends.