“Angel was arrested!”  “No kidding.”  “Yea, I saw the police put her in a car.”  “A patrol car?”  “Yea, what do ya think I’m talking about?”  “For what?”  “For what? I don’t know. Maybe she bopped Sidney up side the head again.”  “She beats Sidney?”  “That’s what Debbie told me.”  “She did?”  “Yea, last year when Sidney was in the hospital.”  “But Sidney went in for a hernia operation.”  “Yea but he had stitches in his head.”  “That was his friend Michael. He fell off a ladder. They shared a room together … in the hospital.”  “You think they’re … you know … gay?”  “Prom queen Angel wouldn’t marry a gay guy.”  “Maybe she didn’t know he was gay.”

“Oh hi Caroline. You hear about Angel?”  “Yes it was terrible. I’m surprised you heard about it.”  “We saw Angel put in the police car.”  “That was so nice of the patrolman.”  “Nice?”  “After the accident …”  “What accident?”  “Angel’s daughter, she was hit by a car.”  “She was?”  “I pulled up right after it happened. Told the policeman where Angel lived. He left immediately to pick her up.”

Sound familiar? Jumping to conclusions? Making up stories? Interpreting events to suit one’s biases, one’s personal agenda? Why do people gossip? Why do they feel compelled to share information about others and in the process malign them? What is it in human nature that provokes such maliciousness? An all too common habit, as old as speech itself.

Of course, conversing with friends and acquaintances is a vital part of socializing. Life is more meaningful when you are sharing experiences. And telling stories perpetuates an ancient tradition. How else to know what’s going on? To keep abreast of the latest developments in the lives of people we know. Today we do have the tabloids. But we have always had tongues. And they will never stop wagging. For many it is a compulsion. “I just found out …”  “Listen, you won’t believe this …”  It never stops … this incessant buzzing:  Busy minds minding everyone else’s business.

Perhaps some altruistic individuals just want to focus attention on the plight of others. Helen has just had a C-section. She and her premature newborn will be in hospital for weeks. Must help care for her three children … enlist the aid of friends and neighbors. Noble. However some malign Helen. They relate horrific stories of Helen’s drug habit. How she has prostituted herself. Maybe someone should take her children. Place them in a better home. Justifiable indignation? Maybe. Legitimate concerns provoke discussions. Sorting them out is often difficult.

But there is gossiping that is more than sharing information, more than expressing legitimate interest and attempting to solve problems. “Did you see her hair?”  “I mean, would YOU go out looking like that?”  “He wears women’s clothes.”  “They go to church every Sunday but they futz like rabbits all week long… even with other couples. I watch them. Scandalous.”  On and on. Garrulous purveyors of salacious activity bask in the attention they receive. Others enjoy listening. Feeds their pomposity in feeling morally superior. Or maybe legitimizes their own licentious behavior.

No matter what provokes inveterate gossipers, they seem to share certain traits. First and foremost is a sense of power. Possessing and dispensing intimate ‘secrets’ allows them to manipulate and influence others. Nothing like the heady high of ‘destroying’ a competitor, an estranged friend or lover. They wield this ‘power’ maliciously for the sheer enjoyment of it. Denigrating others reinforces an inflated sense of self which ironically needs constant ‘propping up’. No better way to banish self doubt or self loathing than confirmation of superiority. How many have tried to ruin others due to their own inadequacies? How sad and unjust when people listen and thereby give encouragement to these despicable diatribes.

A second trait inveterate gossipers share is their unquenchable need for attention. Maybe they were deprived growing up. Too few parental accolades:  “Nice going Johnny; you did great.”  To overcome this depravation, life-long gossipers resort to ‘story telling’. They listen intently to conversations often eavesdropping when notable ‘names’ and compromising situations are being discussed. Nothing like getting the ‘facts’ from the effusive ramblings of others. And boy what stories can be concocted. Whom to tell first? The excitement of the next ‘performance’, the ‘in confidence’ relating of the latest revelation feeds and reinforces this habit of ‘tale mongering’. It can become an obsession, an integral part of daily life that is rarely considered unusual or outrageous. Even though it may take the form of outright character assassination. But the gossiper is often too entrenched in his or her ways to recognize this. For the ‘stories’ have become an important part of socializing. What fun to have people listening intently… to every word … to every dramatic recitation. And the glee, the respect and recognition, when the story ‘spreads’ and the source is acknowledged.

There is one more trait some purveyors of bile share … a rather despicable one actually and condemned in the Ten Commandments:  Revenge. “Thou shalt not bare false witness” alludes to a not uncommon, overt attempt to ruin someone. Trumping up a story or even telling truths and half truths about another with the purpose of hurting them … this is a vocal form of attempted murder. Unfortunately motives are often unrecognized. Someone listening to a subtle or maybe not so subtle reviling may be unaware of the true intent. But passively accepting condemnations being uttered makes one a party to this maliciousness.

And this is true with all forms of gossip. If someone listens intently to the account of another’s inadequacies no matter how innocuous it might be, “his breadth could choke a giraffe,” then one is encouraging the gossiper in this brash belittling, in this debasing ‘put down’.

Why is kindness and consideration abandoned so easily? Why is an ‘ugliness’ allowed to foment deep inside … where the seeds of hate and anger are sown … nourished by pride and arrogance?? It is frightening to see the corruption this engenders.

So where do you stand in this world of ‘sharing stories’? Do you participate occasionally? Are you part of this web of ongoing gossip that thrives on its next morsel? Maybe even at the center weaving salacious revelations? Does the attention satisfy you? Or must you constantly search for future victims? To satiate your appetite. Not an easy habit to break!!  Oh yes you say. You do gossip. It is part of the social scene. Everyone does it. Life would be boring without these daily exposes. Well … think about it … and GET A LIFE. One that values caring over craven debasement of others. Use your time and energy in a positive way. Enjoy what’s good in people. For when you focus on the negatives you are only corrupting yourself. And Happiness and love will certainly elude you.



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