It’s a pretty known thing that gossip is rude, but that doesn’t really matter, because we all do it. It’s rude but often it’s catharsis, and even if you love the person you’re talking about, sometimes you need a safe space to ask why are they like that? or omg I’ve noticed that too. But when does discussing the particularities of our friends and colleagues turn into something hurtful?
There’s that explicit rule of if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. As you’ve probably learned, that doesn’t really work IRL. There’s also more of an unspoken rule that if you wouldn’t say something to the person in question’s face, don’t say it behind their back. That’s certainly a better rule to follow, but still tricky, since maybe you don’t think that you’re saying will cause hurt feelings, but to the other person it does.
I find that I’m very attracted to gossip. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me. I’m curious about everyone’s business because I just want to know what’s going on in the world (and maybe I suffer from FOMO). I’ve been trying to stick to that latter rule by not just saying things that’d I’d only say to someone’s face, but also assessing why I would or wouldn’t say something to their face.
I’ve also been wrestling with what to do when people around me are gossiping or trash talking and I don’t want to participate. To be fair, there’s a bit of a spectrum, with “neutrally discussing someone” on one end and full on trash talking on the other, but what to do when I find myself in a situation when people are saying mean things about someone. Firstly, I try to see if the things they’re saying are true, because it’s rude to stand by while lies spread. If they are true, I see if the tone is actually mean, or if I’m just a sensitive baby who doesn’t like anyone using anything but the most loving tone toward my friends/acquaintances/someone I heard a nice thing about once.
I’d like to say that if someone’s being needlessly mean, I stand up to them, but usually I don’t. I get nervous and quiet and try to change the subject. This is not really advice. But my journey into gossip has left me with one tip: be aware of who is around you. People may have different relationships to the person you’re talking about. People may not know if what you’re saying comes from a place of love and understanding. Create context for your criticisms so they don’t seem like needless bashing, and accept that even if you have negative thoughts about someone, someone else may have a lovely relationship with them.
Or just hide and a cave and don’t talk about anyone, whatever.