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Carol Forsloff--We are all tempted to speak negatively about someone when we are disappointed or angry, but often that gossip comes back like a boomerang, enhancing the problem wherever it exists, as even Pope Francis points out.
Gossip can create personal problems and misunderstandings, and what's worse, it can lead to international conflict, which is why Pope Francis has emphasized its toxicity at the Vatican. Other faith groups have spoken about the gossip's risks, one of which coined a phrase that may say it best: "Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner."
Experts remind us frequently about the difficult issues that arise from gossip. Shared secrets can make us feel special. Sometimes we use these secrets to feel better about ourselves, because as we call attention to the faults of others, that often exist within ourselves, we are denying we have the certain faults or minimize them by projecting our issues on others.
And gossip can create workplace conflict, school bullying and a host of psychological problems.
Here's an example most of us will recognize.
Bill complains that Ed always brags about everything he does and says to Mary, "Ed is such a boor. He thinks he is good at golf and brags about it; but he does it to get attention from the women. I know you are the kind who would not fall for that stupid stuff." Mary agrees and promises not to tell anyone about Ed's reported antics; but she can hardly wait to tell Ann, a friend who works in a nearby office. So Mary says to Ann, after she repeats what Bill told her, "Glad you and I are not like those other women who fall for Ed`s tricks. Wonder what else he does because I saw him with Sue one night, sitting pretty close together in Bill`s office when I was getting ready to leave work,"
Now Ann is worried because she is friends with Betty, Ed`s wife, so she tells Betty what Ed is doing, adding a few embellishments of her own.
Betty confronts Ed. He protests the boss has asked him to get a project done, even if it means working late; and Sue is the only person in the office who has done the research to help it get done on time. As for golf, Bill is fairly new at the game and so excited he wanted to share his progress with everyone. Betty says she understands, as it all seems plausible; but once in awhile something might come up, raising suspicions about her husband who has remained faithful all this time.
The consequences of this gossip? Bill no longer trusts Mary, once his friend. Ed had extra tickets to a ball game, featuring Bill`s favorite team he gives to others, since now he knows that Bill is the primary source of his new tensions with Betty. Ed and Betty now argue when Ed has to work late, while he and Sue, once an effective work team, decide it would be better for Ed to get a male employee to help him with the project. And Bill, having had a love affair with Sue and jealous of Ed's time with her, however innocent, was the cause of the problems that happened from the seeds of his gossip that day; and Sue consequently breaks off their relationship.
Imagine how a scene with these types of sequences play out on an international scale.
The solution? Honesty and directness in relationships, resisting gossip and the passive aggressive behavior often that is its companion. Psychologists and spiritual teachers point to this path, along with other measured steps, as the best to take in relationships that can prevent gossip and the consequences of it that can sometimes be life-long.