I’m still working on a couple of stubborn projects in the background. Meanwhile, here is this tidbit that has been on my mind. Needless to say, “Hannah” and “Alex” are not the real names of my friends.
I was recently talking with my friend Hannah, and I mentioned our mutual acquaintance, Alex. Neither Hannah nor I have known Alex for very long, but I think highly of him. I like the affection he shows his wife. I like the tenderness he shows his kids. I like the casual kindness he shows towards people he doesn’t know very well.
So I was surprised when Hannah suddenly told me a story about a time when Alex was rude to her. I countered, mildly, with a story that put Alex in a good light; and Hannah replied with a second story that put Alex in a bad light. She was determined to show me that I shouldn’t like him nearly so much as I did.
It worked. Ever since then, without wanting to, I’ve looked at Alex differently. Hannah said he was self-absorbed, so now when I see him speak his mind without thinking about it — a trait that I appreciate, because to me, it means he is guileless — I wonder whether it’s not a vice instead of a virtue. Maybe he should think more and speak less. Suddenly his simplicity looks like arrogance. Suddenly, without wanting to, I like him less.
I’m not shocked when people are rude to each other, because I understand that nobody has perfect control over their tongue — but still, everybody knows that being rude is bad. But I was shocked and disturbed at what Hannah did to me and to Alex, even though I have doubtless done the same. I was shocked and disturbed because she had no idea that there was anything wrong with what she said. She didn’t understand the power that she had over my perceptions.
So, as a public service announcement to those who have never been taught about gossip, here is why I believe that it is evil.
- When you say bad things about somebody, especially somebody that I don’t know very well, it makes it more likely that I will grow to hate them a little more. You are teaching me how to hate that person.
- When you say good things about somebody, especially somebody that I don’t know very well, it makes it more likely that I will grow to love them. You are teaching me how to love that person better.
- I am good at discovering the evil in other people. I don’t need your help. If it’s true that they’re bad, I’ll probably find out for myself.
- I’m not nearly as good at discovering the good in other people. I need your help to do that. If it’s true that they’re good, I might never notice it unless you show me.
Please don’t gossip at me, and please call me out on it if I do it at you.