Spread goodwill, not gossip
Prof. AVR Rao elaborates on how gossiping can harm society and suggests ways of remedying this social sickness
Gossiping is the unhealthy habit of talking about the private lives of others, not merely as sharing some positive information, but in such a way that it results in harming their lives and robbing their peace of mind. In common parlance, a gossiper is also called a backbiter, tale-carrier, busybody, scandalmonger, quidnunc, blab, tattletale, tattler, or rumourmonger. Likewise, the gossip-listener is labelled as wet behind the ears or gullible. For these reasons, wise and good-natured people with a healthy mind do not indulge in gossip. Further, gossip does not spread in its original form, but gains tails, heads, colours, and shapes, transforming its original attire unbelievably.
The nature of a gossiper
A gossiper is like a double-edged sword; they harm both themself and others. While it spoils the dignity, credibility, honest reputation, and peace of mind of the victim, the gossiper themself will also eventually suffer the same fate owing to the pressure and influence of negative feelings that gossip generates. Gossipers have been in existence ever since the creation of a civilised society and will continue to flourish until its termination. Ancient epics, the Puranas, and fairy tales mention several gossipers who flourished, albeit temporarily, at the cost of others. The gossiper habitually spreads personal or sensational information about others, often baseless, untrue, and scandalous. Social media like WhatsApp, Facebook, forums for speeches, newspapers, and magazines enhance and strengthen the resources of the gossiper to spread their tales.
Examples of gossipers
A neighbour, a co-worker, a relative, or a friend who conveys to you wrong information about the character or conduct of another with the malicious intention of gaining an advantage for themself is an example of a gossiper.
Even ancient epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the classics, Bollywood, work-life, personal relationships, social groups, politics, etc. have plenty of instances showing the existence and impact of gossipers in societies of all ages.
In the Ramayana, the gossip of a commoner resulted in Sri Rama doubting the character of his wife, Sitadevi, and his exiling her consequently. In the Mahabharata, the gossip of Shakuni was the main cause for polluting the minds of the Kauravas, which ended up in their destruction through an unprecedented great war of the times. In the Bhagavatam, gossip and rumours about Krishna having stolen the precious and high-value jewel Shamantakamani portrayed him as a blasphemous character. He had, therefore, to struggle hard to trace the jewel and fight a war with Jambavanta, all to clear the doubts in the minds of the people. Of late, rumours about Iraq allegedly possessing chemical weapons led America to wage a war and virtually destroy the country. Gossip about the various players in the Ramayana and Mahabharata have even resulted in these great epics being rewritten with distorted versions of the stories and the players in them.
Why do people gossip?
Why people engage in gossip is really an enigma. However, psychologists have figured it out a little and attribute the habit to a kind of mental illness of the gossiper. There are a variety of motives and reasons for the gossiper to talk ill of others in their absence. The prominent ones are
•Ego satisfaction. A desire to prove themself to be superior to others by placing them down.
• Fear of being overtaken by others.
• Desire to show that they belong to a more respectable group.
• Inability to conceal their jealousy of others who are more successful and happier compared to themself.
• Gaining intimacy with the person whom he is speaking to by undermining others whom the listener does not like.
• Desire to fascinate people by divulging hidden information about others. When this is not known, they invent interesting stories. Some of the messages forwarded on social media that gain viral status are the best examples.
• Habitual judgmental behaviour to compensate for feeling bad about their own behaviour.
• Desire to impress the listener using the tools of vivid explanation of the information, constant repetition, cocked up illustrations of the conduct and consequences, etc.
Ill effects of gossiping
The ill effects of gossiping range from trivial to serious. Some of the commonplace dangerous consequences are mentioned below.
• Repeated gossip tends to gain the authority of truth.
• Gossip is always one-sided. The victim does not have an opportunity to explain or defend themself.
• Gossip mars the relationship between people and drives them towards wrong assumptions and decisions by building negativity in perceptions.
• Innocent people tend to be branded with wicked labels and become helpless victims of gossip.
• It is the nature of gossip to spread faster than truth; the speed is self-generated!
• Gossip, at first, appears to be sensational and attractive; listeners often lose the discrimination of analysing and cross-checking the veracity of the information.
• If gossip were food, millions would become overweight.
• Unfortunately, ignorant people quickly believe bad and misleading things about others. Gossip dangerously works at a high speed with them.
• When toxic people are unable to control you directly, they adopt the crooked method of influencing others to keep you under their thumb.
• If not properly handled, gossip is not only likely to be humiliating in the short run, but it can also have a long-term negative impact on a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence. It might also lead to the development of depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
How do you deal with gossip?
How do you deal with people and situations when you are the target of gossip? It is difficult and often embarrassing, particularly if your work or life partner is a gossiper or has the habit of listening to gossipers. In that case, your own life becomes hard. Barring the extreme steps of admonishing or terminating the partnership or association, one of the first steps you can take is to politely speak and logically convince your partner of the dangerous nature of gossiping and the information passed on, which is often baseless and untrue. If this does not work, then seek the tools of reasoning and emotion, bringing home the possible ill effects of gossiping and also provide historical and contemporary examples of how gossip ruined everyone concerned. There are many more such techniques, which can be applied usefully, choosing what is appropriate for the occasion and the persons involved, such as
• Influencing methods categorised as saama, daana, danda and bhedha.
• Surrounding yourself with people who talk about facts, ideas, emotions, visions, nature, objective subjects, etc.
• Staying away from and avoiding gossipers. Remember, those who gossip about others in front of you will also gossip about you in front of others. Prevention is better than cure; staying away is better than wriggling out.
• Smiling, being transparent in your conduct, being patient, and rising above gossip.
• Avoiding being both the initiator and the target of gossip.
• Conducting yourself in a way that would destroy the bogey created by gossip.
So, looking at it from any angle, gossip is the curse of society and needs to be discouraged vehemently.
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