I recently watched the movie, Doubt, starring Meryl Streep. As described in the movie reviews, the film takes place in 1964, and centers on a nun who confronts a priest after suspecting him of abusing a black student. He denies the charges, and much of the film’s quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality, and authority.
I don’t want to spoil the story by giving away too much, but there is one scene that I thought was particularly brilliant. The priest, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, discusses the topic of gossip during his sermon to the congregation. He describes a woman who has gossiped about another and goes to her priest to confess her sin. He tells her to go to the top of her roof and gut a pillow, then return to him the following day. She does as instructed. Feathers from the pillow fly across the sky.
She returns the following day and reports what she has done. The priest next instructs her to go back and gather all the feathers and return them to the pillow. She tells him that she cannot perform this task as the feathers blew away. She can’t even guess how far they flew or where they went. He tells her that it is exactly the same thing with gossip.
When you talk disparaging, or spread gossip, you have no idea how far the message will travel, where it will spread, and, once said, it is impossible to take it back. Jackie, my co-writer for Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within has seen the devastating effects of gossip in personal relationships, as well as the workplace. This is what she has to say about the topic:
“Gossip is not only hurtful, it’s destructive. Criticism and gossip stops any work environment from being a positive, joyful, fun, fulfilling experience. We can be having a wonderful time at our jobs, then one negative or critical person walks in and everyone seems to follow the negativity feeding frenzy. It’s like inviting ants to a picnic. Unfortunately, what follows is the whole environment turns negative. We find ourselves agreeing with, and even adding to the gossip and criticism that is being tossed about. From there it spreads and fuels the fire of dissention – often beyond repair.”
In addition to ruining people’s reputations, gossip in the workplace is bad for business. It results in loss of jobs, retraining costs and a serious decrease in morale and productivity. Jackie offered this advice for turning the tide of gossip in the workplace.
“We each have an obligation to stop this vicious cycle of negativity and destruction. When we catch ourselves being critical or wanting to gossip, we need to stop and refuse to allow ourselves to fall into that trap. We may have to work on this for the rest of our lives as the programming is strong and society as a whole tends to be negative. We have to choose not to participate or associate with the people that seem to thrive on the negative side of life. We have to learn to say, “I'm sorry you feel the way you do, but I really can't let your negative attitude interfere with my joy and happiness.” It may be hard at first, but when you hear gossip, you need to have the courage to stop it, or at the very least, learn to walk away.”
Although gossip may seem titillating, when we listen or participate in gossip and negativity, we allow the verbal negativity to grow and have more power. In order to lead a happier life, we must learn to focus on the positive people, places, and things we enjoy. By doing so, we not only become happier, we are able to defuse, or erase, the negativity in our environments. The old saying, If you can't say something nice about someone don't say anything at all, is more true than we realize.
Because we are bombarded with negative messages every day – particularly in the media – spreading bad news is becoming more common place than ever before. Gossip is just another evil way of creating more negativity and unhappiness in the world. One way to curb the practice is to think before speaking, or repeating information. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say going to be hurtful in any way? What is my motivation for saying this? Is what I’m about to say coming from a place of love and respect, or a place anger and cruelty?” By asking ourselves a few questions before we speak, and trying to communicate from a compassionate viewpoint and not a critical one, we can save ourselves, and others, a lot of pain and grief.