The habit of gossiping is one that is entirely destructive, and can be likened to an addiction to smoking cigarettes, easy to catch and difficult to get rid of. Both gossiping and smoking provide opportunities to superficially meet and bond with others and also present alternatives to quality conversation. In much the same way as lighting up a quick cigarette fills an awkward silence, telling a rumor also replaces good, wholesome conversation. They also share the obvious similarity of being a habit that is known to be harmful both to ourselves and to others, and yet we often still choose to indulge in it, even though the consequences can be severe and the damage irreversible.
One of the main problems with gossiping is how easily it can ruin the reputation of another. Shana Alexander once said, “Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell.” Once something is said, you can neither take it back nor guarantee that it will not be repeated. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to create suspicion–an idle comment implying that someone is a hopeless flirt, or a careless story told of how badly someone acted while drunk, and the damage is done. Although many times we try to justify ourselves doing this by saying that that it is our duty “as a friend” to enlighten someone else, and we are “helping” others by telling them the truth, we sometimes forget that we also owe others compassion and mercy as well. Whether the information is true or not, it is not our job to pass it on.
In addition, gossiping tends to go hand in hand with hypocrisy because the act of judging others makes us feel like we are more righteous and less sinful than those we talk about. We find a way to blind ourselves to the fact that we often are committing the same sin as those who we gossip about–we even gossip about others who gossip, pretending that, somehow, it isn’t bad when we do it, only when they do it. It is this same deceptive attitude that allows us as gossipers to pretend that no one ever talks about us, as if we were somehow safe from gossip ourselves (because there is clearly nothing about us deserving of gossip, right?). As a Spanish proverb goes, “Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” We of all people should know that is true, and that, again, gossiping doesn’t have to be true to be told and repeated.
Gossiping also unfortunately encourages a delight over other people’s sins and failings, conditioning us to view those bad actions as far more “valuable” than good actions. We don’t make it our business to know how virtuous people are being–we only want to know about the evil in their lives, and we want to know all details so that we can fully enjoy it (that is, “sympathize”). It is not right that we should be more excited and pleased to hear of a nasty divorce than a peaceful resolution to a friend’s marriage issues, for instance. There is a spirit of greed in gossiping, a savoring of someone else’s sorrow or pain, which is poison to those involved.
Remember, gossip is a vice that inherently involves multiple people: the person who is talked about, the person who is talked to, and the gossiper. After all, what is the point of telling a rumor if there is no one to hear it? It is important to point out that, while smoking is a choice that we have the right to make, we do not have the right to choose to carelessly hurt the reputations of others or invade their privacy. Just like second hand smoke, gossiping also does harm no matter who is exposed to it, regardless of whether they are willing participants or not. And although smoking zones may have be an answer to secondhand smoke issues from cigarettes, there should never be “zones” where gossiping is allowed. In fact, we should strive to make wherever we ourselves are a “no gossip zone” and to do all we can to speak only words of kindness and compassion, so that when they leave us, they do only good.