Recently I attended an event where colleagues gathered. Time was spent catching up, swapping stories – all good. At a certain point, however, the conversation turned sour. Suddenly the talk turned to jabs/slights/disparaging remarks about individuals who were not there. This portion of the conversation probably only lasted about 15 minutes but it was enough to change the energy in the room from one of celebration and reunion to mean-spirited gossip.
It took me about 24 hours to fully make sense of how those 15 minutes affected me. I very much wanted the evening to be a fun and festive gathering of people who I had not seen in awhile so I rationalized it all at first by saying that it was all in good fun, no one meant any real harm and there were elements of truth in all that was said. The truth, however, was far from that. Harm was done.
I remembered advice my mother gave me many years ago – which was, “if people are gossiping about others with you…you can bet they’ll do the same when you are not around.” That rang true as I was left that evening with a feeling of being unsafe – not sure if these individuals could really be trusted with my confidences and perhaps even more significant, I wondered if I could trust what they said, how they felt, etc. If they spoke so poorly about someone now, who they had stood by when they worked together – all bets were called of.
Not for a minute am I suggesting that I have never participated in idle gossip – I have – not proud of it, but I have. We’ve all been there at one time or another. I write about this incident today as a reminder to myself that it does harm. That harm may be microscopic in the moment but it has a way of entering the psyche and spreading virally. Put simply, it does not help. There is no positive momentum created by tearing someone else down – no matter how deserving we feel they may be.
I wondered what causes us to engage in this type of dialogue? Insecurity? Fear? Boredom? Attention? Jealousy? Pick one or add one. What I chose to pay more attention to after the evening had concluded was recalling the energy and vibe in the corners of the room where folks were not participating in the negative conversation. What did that say about those individuals? How did that dialogue feel? – all good. This is what I decided to listen to.