There are Better Things to Talk About Than Other People (and How to Gossip Less)

how-to-gossip-less

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself.” ―Marcus Aurelius

An old proverb tells the story of a person who repeated a rumor about a neighbor. Soon, the whole community had heard the rumor. Later, the person who spread the gossip learned that the rumor was untrue. He was very sorry and went to an elder in the community who had a reputation for great wisdom to seek advice. The elder told him, “Go to your home and take a feather pillow outside. Rip it open and scatter the feathers, then return to me tomorrow.” The man did as the elder had instructed.

The following day, he visited the elder. The elder said, “Go collect the feathers you scattered yesterday and bring them back to me.” The man went home and searched for the feathers, but the wind had carried them all away. Returning to the elder, he admitted, “I could find none of the feathers I scattered yesterday.” “You see,” said the elder, “it‘s easy to scatter the feathers but impossible to get them back.” So it is with gossip; it doesn’t take much to spread hurtful words, but once you do, you can never completely undo the damage.

___

Quickly defined, gossip is talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature. And there are far better things to talk about than the sensational, intimate details of another.

Gossip almost always complicates our lives rather than simplifies. Unfortunately, gossip feels good and the short-term rewards often distract us from the fact that we know better. It makes us feel better about ourselves to know something about someone else and share that with another. Other times, speaking about the personal faults of others makes it easier to overlook our own.

Even under the best of motives, gossip almost always does damage to the relationship that we can never completely undo. Consider some of these life-complicating dangers of gossip:

  • Damaged Relationships. When we learn that a friend has passed on a rumor about us – true, but confidential information – it always does damage to the relationship. The same is true when you are the one passing on the gossip.
  • Trust is destroyed. It is virtually impossible to restore complete trust in a person who has shared your secrets with another. And it is vey difficult to trust someone who has just shared with you someone else‘s secrets.
  • Adds unnecessary complexity. If you’ve ever told a secret that you don’t want somebody else to pass along, you know exactly what unnecessary complexity is. Gossip adds the nagging worry that word will make it back to the person or spread beyond our control.
  • Devalues the relationship in front of you. Intimate, personal details about a person who is not there always removes you from your present reality and transports you somewhere else. Not only does it distract you from the relational opportunity in front of you, it puts you squarely in the middle of a personal scenario where you do not belong.

One important ingredient to simplify our lives is to avoid gossip at all costs. If gossip is a source of complexity in your life, try giving one of these steps a shot:

1. Appreciate the difference between “helpful” and “gossip.”

There are times in life when it is genuinely helpful for you to know the personal background or personal details of a friend‘s life. But if someone begins sharing intimate details of another‘s life and you are in no position to help (or have no intention to help), it is not helpful speech. It is gossip. And will only lead to disaster.

2. Stop it before it starts.

If your conversation begins to turn toward gossip, take the high road and end it. A simple sentence that goes like this, “I‘m not sure I‘m in a good position to be having this conversation,” quickly shifts the focus to yourself while communicating your point to your partner.

3. Engage in meaningful conversations about the people around you.

There is a 100% chance that you have not fully explored the deepest places of the heart and life sitting right in front of you. Rather than engaging in conversation about someone else, choose to ask deeper questions about the hopes, dreams, and fears of the people who are present.

4. Avoid the two greatest causes of gossip: pride and self-exaltation.

Gossip makes us feel better about ourselves because we get to revel in the fact that other people have problems too. This is especially gratifying when their problems are seen as more severe than our own. It is selfish pride and a need for self-exaltation that results in that mindset.

5. Stay positive with your speech.

Use positive words as much as possible – even when talking about another. Speaking positively about a person who is not present rarely leads to gossip and almost always leads to a closer ally. This positive speech will also encourage the people around you to do the same.

6. Celebrity gossip is still gossip.

Remember, just because they appear on magazine covers does not make their personal secrets fair game as a conversation topic. Gossip can appear on the pages of a magazine just as easily as it can during a conversation in your living room.

Is it just me or does it seem that with all the things that we could choose to talk about on any given day… the intimate details of another person’s life should be lower on the list than it usually is?

Image: B.Riordan.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Joshua.
    I am not a fan of gossip, as I know that it hurts. I have been on the receiving end of some before and although it didn’t “hurt” me, it did create a bad reputation that I was not aware of until later when someone made a passing comment. It is amazing how far the lies travelled.
    That proverb you shared sums it up perfectly- everything we do has far reaching consequences, many of which we will never know.
    David

  2. says

    That’s a great parable at the beginning, one I’ve never heard, by the way.

    I have, for years, subscribed to the idea of “there’s two ways to have the tallest building in the city.” You know that idea, right? You can either build the tallest building, or you can tear down everyone else’s buildings. I prefer the former to the latter; i.e., growth and creation over consumption and destruction.

    Take care,

    Joshua Millburn

    • Leisa Kugler says

      i have never heard the “building” idea. I Love this, and I will never forget it, Thank you!

  3. says

    Talking about others can be so dangerous. Even when your motives are *mostly* pure, sometimes the words can come back to haunt you. The rule I try to follow is: Don’t say it if you couldn’t say to their face.

    Thanks for the reminder to stay positive with my speech. Take care!
    Melissa Gorzelanczyk

  4. says

    Gratitude for a beautiful reminder.
    Wouldn’t we all be better off if we didn’t need to be reminded? If we just simply lived and let others live without our judgements and hurtful words? I once was guilty of engaging in gossip and in my ongoing journey to become more kind and aware of my effects, I gently asked a person to stop telling me others secrets. I was met with hostility. We can become who we associate with. It was a hard learned lesson that I am greatful for.

  5. says

    When homeschooling our children, we came across a wonderful analogy to show them the damage of words and how you can’t take them back. Have them squeeze toothpaste out onto a plate. A lot of toothpaste. Explain how it is like your words you speak. Now tell them to get the toothpaste back into the tube. This shows them how difficult and near impossible it is, and to consider the toothpaste before speaking something about someone or to someone.
    I love the feather analogy as well!
    Bernice
    Are you stuck in a rut?

  6. Leslie says

    this is something that I’m currently working on. I grew up in a very gossipy family and didn’t really realize how MUCH we gossip and how damaging it is until this year. Apparrantly planning a wedding puts you in the middle of a LOT of family drama. I admit I participated in the gossip my entire life. It’s just what we did. I very recently decided that I had to stop gossip in all areas of my life. I told family members that I don’t want to hear about any family gossip or discuss any relationships that are not my own. So far they’ve all taken it very well and I’ve stuck to my guns. A few have tried to rope me in and I just stop them mid-sentence and say “actually, I’d rather you not share this with me. This is something I really don’t need to know.”

    Learning to stop can be hard. I still find myself starting to speak about someone else and having to think, stop, and change the subject. But I am SO glad I am making this change! I’m hoping it will catch on in the rest of the family!

  7. says

    I love the story about (analogy with) the feather pillow – a great way of illustrating what happens not only with gossip but with our words and actions in general – the ripple effect. I’m much better these days and try to avoid gossiping – however I am human and do catch myself every now and then. This post and story are great reminders – gossip can, in certain circumstances, kill – I’d rather bee spreading ripples of happiness and joy.

    Thanks Joshua
    Steve

  8. says

    Great Post! I think we are all guilty of this in one way or another and I think it’s very important for people to be aware that they are gossiping. I know I am guilty of it. I wish I could say I am not. A famous cartoon character once said… “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. ” Yoga has made me more aware of people around me and to respect their space and share my love. This is in their presence and also away. I am going to work harder on this. What’s the best way to not get caught up in the gossip wheel when you are having a conversation with someone? How do you keep yourself from weakening to that level?

  9. says

    Hi Joshua,

    What an amazing post. I would add to your list that gossip is also just a waste of time. Where does it get us? It makes us feel good about ourselves for a short while because we are able to put someone else down lower than us. Instead, we should be trying to pull ourselves up higher. It’s easy to get sucked into gossip, so it is important to recognize when it’s happening and make it a point to stay away from it.

    Thanks!
    Tony

  10. Sue says

    I’ve been burned a few times by gossip. The only blessing is that I learned right away what that person was capable of. Kind of like trying on an ill fitting pair of shoes-you sum up the situation quickly and realize they’re not worth breaking in, put them back on the shelf and move on.

  11. Stephanie says

    I have both spoken wrongly of and spoken wrongly of others. Between 2007-2009 my life suffered the most devestating blow ever and if I had not continued to pour glasoline on the fire…things would not have gotten as bad as they did. In todays world of internet and social networking things have gotten out of control. It’s not that social networking or internet themselves is bad, but they DO reflect our inner selves all too painfully most of the time. My prayer is that we would make Jesus the Lord of our actions EVERYWHERE and hold every thought and word captive and surrendered to the Lord!
    Thank you for saying what needed to be said!

    • Stephanie says

      Sorry wanted to clear up a typo:”I have both spoken wrongly of and spoken wrongly of others.”
      Correction: “I have both spoken wrongly of others and been spoken wrongly of by others myself.”

  12. says

    Totally agree with your arguments about gossip.

    I try to always talk in a positive way about other people and never saying anything about someone that I wouldn’t say to their face.

    People that spread gossip often find that they are also the subject of other’s gossip. )Andno-one likes to be talked about in a negative and/or untrue way)

  13. laura m. says

    In various civic groups, other organizations, and churches, I have seen things told in confidence, then someone gossips as the story changes gradually over time when others tell it. This is why I never join anything period. For example, if you visit a church off and on fine; but once you join, others want to “gossip” about past and present people or events. I have seen people “take sides” as each group disagrees with the other group. I quit voting for political candidates twenty five years ago because of lack of trust, false promises, corruption, and some spread gossip about others, not to mention scandals on the news. Even relatives gossip about each other, and I have seen family members who never speak again to other relatives because trust was destroyed.

  14. says

    Mr. Becker – wise counsel. Words are ridiculously powerful.

    I like the way you think. Keep killin’ it out there, sir.

    – Joshua (Gordon)
    @nonconformistpa

  15. Claire says

    I absolutely love your blog. I find your posts so thoughtful and inspiring. I, too, have been trying to live a much more simple life. Do you have any tips for dealing with friends and family who do not share your views? I have a couple of friends who insist on buying me random stuff from trips, etc. that I would really rather not have. Or, they purchase things for me that they think I need (which I don’t think I need). This seems to happen despite reminding them beforehand that I would rather not receive little trinket gifts (or really any gifts at all). Thanks!

  16. says

    Great advice, I think as we move towards a simpler, more meaningful life, cheap talk about others becomes less and less attractive.
    Sometimes this is a bad habit to break especially in those relationships that have grown around gossiping. In a twisted way, gossiping is bonding especially among ladies.

    Love your site :)

  17. Gwen says

    I remembering hearing this story as a child during mass. I remembering thinking how hard it would be to collect all those feathers. I think of that story often whenever I am tempted to gossip. It is such a great analogy and helps me remember the damage you can do when you gossip. Thanks for the great post.

  18. says

    I used to teach the same thing to children only I would have one of them squirt the contents of a tube of toothpaste on a plate and then ask them to put it back in the tube. You just can’t go back. Good post.

  19. says

    If all of us could evaluate how we spoke or spent our time, things would have been better. I would have read this post, shared it on the social media and hopped away without commenting but what caught my attention were the last few lines. Celebrity gossip! How convenient it is for us to mock and shame them, and delve into their private lives because they are public figures? Regardless of what they choose to do in their lives we should have respect for others. Even if they have strayed away, pray that they are guided. They are as human as us.

    Your blog is a source of inspiration, keep it that way!

  20. says

    Hurtful,usually untrue,excuse to make oneself look good,even thou it does not….tiny minds talk about others,people who are unhappy with themselves find pleasure in gossip sometimes I wonder if it were not for gossip would there be any conversation at all.

  21. Woundedgirl says

    As a warning, an entire family and a life can be ruined and sometimes can never recover trust. Coming from a large family with many unhappy people is fodder for vicious and vile spreading of false or misconstrued information. My father basically died alone from misinformation spread via family members that just listened to the family gossip. This particular family member is a phone addict that has so little in their own life. It is a lonely life though to try to lead a healthier existence because as soon as people find out you do not gossip – they avoid you like the plague. Funny how life is.

  22. confused says

    I have recently been confronted about some family gossip. Not much was said so I don’t know what that person is really talking about. I didn’t want to ask as I knew by what little was said was a lie so far. They just dropped it and I left it at that. I did however contact the source and asked nicely if anything was said because I was told something. I admit I confided in the one I confronted with things. They said they will not talk to the other one. As it stands I don’t know what to do because the one person doesn’t know yet why the other isn’t answering calls.

  23. Lisa M. Jamieson says

    Thank you. I am going to post this outside my cube at work and in front of my phone to remind the person I have the most control over, me.

  24. says

    Thanks for the great word Joshua! It’s one thing to not start gossip, it’s when a conversation steers towards gossip and I have to shut it down that can be hard. I think a lot of gossip is also judgemental and we need to remember that as well. Very encouraged to just keep my mouth shut!

  25. Isadora Rosanna Durrant says

    This is a good site and some great comments on why some people gossip and spread sometimes unfounded rumours. I had a friend who I will call X. I no longer see because of this problem. She was forever gossiping about people and running them down which I found very two faced as she was so nice to their faces. The crunch came when I told her something which I did not want any of our other friends to know. About a week after I had told her the other two friends whom I will call A&B rang me up about this secret I had been told she unfortunately had blabbed to them. It actually caused an argument between the other two friends A&B. When I tackled the so called friend whom I asked not to repeat what I had told her she turned round and said oh A wanted to break with B so that is ok she wanted to break away from the other friend anyway. She had done it on purpose to cause trouble. I never trusted her again so I stopped seeing her. My relationship is now ok with A&B much better without X gossiping and spread rumours about us all.

  26. says

    Great article and great points! I stay away from people who gossip. It has no value to my life, and I strongly believe if they can do it to others then they can do it to you.

  27. Audrey says

    This one hits really close to home and I needed the message today. Thank you! Not only did it teach me to refrain but made an impact on something I was refusing to forgive.

  28. Lyn says

    As my Grandpa used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about someone keep your mouth shut. If you’ve got something to say about someone, say it to their face and if you wouldn’t say it to their face, keep your mouth shut.”

    This scrolls across my mind every single time I open my mouth.

  29. Whatmattersmost says

    Joshua,

    I love your blog since the time I discovered it last year. Its very insightful. I have tried some things but always end up reverting to my old habits.

    There is one topic I would love to get your thoughts on. Maybe you can write on it sometime. I find myself comparing myself to my friends very frequently, and then feel disappointed when I feel short of how I’d like to be. This also created clutter and noise in my mind.

  30. says

    My mum had a saying on our fridge that I always remember and try to teach my children – “What Peter tells me about Paul tells me more about Peter than it does about Paul”.

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