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GOSSIP AND OPINION: WHY DOES IT MATTER WHOSE IT IS?

“The foolish and dead alone never change their opinion”

“Risk little on the opinion of a man who has nothing to lose”

“Who gossips to you will gossip of you”

“If what we see is doubtful, how can we believe what is spoken behind our backs?”

Suppose a famous street drunk, a famous church minister, and a famous physicist each told you the sky was falling. Which one would you believe?

Precisely.

So what moves us to believe something and take action if necessary, is a function at least of who says it. We take into account their social status, their occupation, their state of mind, etc., regardless of how famous (or infamous) they are. And if we follow the media closely these days, famous people can be wrong.

There has been a common expression around that goes something like…

   “The unintelligent mind speaks mostly of things; the mediocre mind speaks mostly of people; and the wise mind speaks mostly of ideas”

These aphorism generalizations may be off the mark at times, but there is some truth to them, as well as with those at the top of the page. They remind us of the importance of not getting off the rails with our communications, of keeping ourselves aware at all times of the importance of truth, honesty and respect in our dealings with others.

Gossip has many features: dirt, mud-slinging, tittle-tattle, hearsay, prattle, chin-wag, smear/whispering campaign, idle talk, and so forth. Those who practise it are often called tittle-tattlers, busybodies, prattlers, and gossip-mongerers. It serves the sociological purpose of making us aware of our social lives and that we cannot live in a vacuum from others. Our own reputations are constructed by the deeds we do, and thus others, however few, get to experience us, either directly or indirectly. We are seen, or heard about, legitimately or deceptively. Since mostly our reputations precede us (some however, posthumously), gossip can act to enhance or destroy what we have created socially about ourselves. Gossip can topple the greatest among us, if for no other reason, and it can take decades to achieve full redemption if incorrectly wronged by gossip.

Gossip is usually nothing other than an opinion. Opinion is speculation about a thing, situation or event with or without the facts. We all give our opinions every day, about this or that, but what distinguishes gossip is its targeting of character, as it attaches value judgments to and about a person. A person’s character is often exposed in gossip. People who gossip are often motivated out of a need to achieve a certain status among their peers, or among more important people they are trying to influence.

Most of us have been on the receiving end of gossip at some time in our lives, and it matters to us whose spreading it around. If it’s a sibling of ours, we may tolerate it as a prank; if it’s a disgruntled colleague from work, we may be less likely to be so forgiving. The status of the conveyor matters. The higher his or her status the more we’re on the ball and vigilant about the process and potential outcome.

But if we’re proud of who we are, and can stand up to the messages being circulated that others think damage us, then gossip matters less to us. If we believe firmly for example, in the content of the gossip, i.e., “he’s a Nudist/Naturist”, “she’s a Lesbian”, as being what we truly are, then we mentally prepare a formidable convincing rebuttal for those who may ask us if it’s true. Or not. After all, it’s none of their business. The trick is to discover the true motivations of gossipers, if one cares to find out.

Life carries with it the construction of a self that can never be completely free from what other people think of it. If opinions of certain others matter to us, then it is wise anyway, to silently arm ourselves with a strong defense for our idiosyncracies or personal life preferences, routines, habits and involvements if the need arises. We should take pride in who we have become, and be true to our values irrespective of opinions others spread about us. It is not easy. But remember that a true friend is someone who leaves you with your freedom intact, and who doesn’t gossip about you. “Life without a friend is death without a witness.” As for the rest, they need to heed that “It is as great a virtue to hide ignorance as to discover knowledge.”

TL Hill, PhD

Quotes from Complete Speaker’s and Toastmaster’s Library, 1965. Prentice-Hall, NY.

 

 

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