Gossip is defined by some as “Any talk about people who are not present.” It appears that not all gossip is bad, though we may have been taught from childhood that “If you do not have anything nice to say, do not say anything.” It can be positive, neutral or negative and we should try to quash the mean-spirited gossip. For some of us hearing and telling scandalous stories might mean guilty pleasure but “gossip is by no means a black-and-white affair. We have a natural need for human connection, and gossip feeds that, for good and ill. Much depends upon the motivation of the gossiper: are they aiming to warn people about a bad actor, or are they enjoying the malicious pleasure of spreading a harmful story?” writes Katherine Ashenburg.
Those who indulge in gossip do so to improve their social bonding, even though temporarily, or to experience the feeling of superiority. It is important to learn the difference between the benign and the bad gossip. In organizations, communities and neighborhoods, gossip can perform the function of providing information. Psychologists and sociologists are of the view that even mean-spirited gossip can help in bonding and social education, as for instance, criticism of those who have transgressed social norms could encourage good conduct and act as a deterrent to bad behavior. “If permission is given, sharing sensitive information may provide an opportunity for compassion.” If the information about a couple planning to take divorce is passed on, some listeners may “respond by reaching out in kindness to one or both members of the couple to assure them of support.”
How can we break the habit of gossiping? When people regularly come to you with gossip you may refuse to engage in that kind of talk. Alternatively, when someone starts talking ill of another, one can remind them of good traits in that individual’s character or about the difficulties they may have in their life, writes Katherine Ashenburg. (Reader’s Digest, May 2023)
One of the evils by which modern society is debased is constant misuse of the power of speech. When two or more people come together, they indulge in idle talk or small talk. Idle talk easily degenerates into gossip and backbiting. It is quite a challenge to be part of a group and yet not be party to gossip and slander. It is only with some effort that now and then, one succeeds in diverting the conversation to discussing weather or some social or political issue. Mr. Judge almost laments at this folly of humanity, saying: “What a petty lot of matter we spend time on, when so much is transitory. After a hundred years what will be the use of all this?”
Speech is one of the greatest privileges acquired by human beings in the course of evolution. We long for powers, overlooking the responsibility that goes with the use of those powers. One of the Masters writes, “Each man is personally responsible to the Law of Karma for every word of his voluntary production.” A very few, if any, are aware of the “creative power” latent in speech, because this power can manifest only through right speech.
It is a human tendency to readily believe in the evil of another. In The Key to Theosophy, H.P.B. gives us clear principles. We must not believe in evil of another until we have an undeniable proof of the correctness of the statement. And even when we have such a proof, we are asked to exercise pity and charity towards the sinning brethren, knowing the shortcomings and infirmities of human nature. She says that if the accusation against another person is true, and the fault hurts no one but the sinner, then leave him to his Karma. But if by remaining silent, it is likely to bring harm to the innocent, then it is our duty “to speak the truth at all costs.” At such times, one must consult his duty and do what his conscience and higher nature suggests to him; but only after mature deliberation. For instance, if we know our maid-servant to be dishonest, it becomes our duty to warn our neighbor, with whom she works. We should try to protest against derogatory statements and if we are unable to do that, we should register an expression of no enthusiasm, and seeing that there is no response, or no demand, the supply will naturally cease.
[This article also appeared in the August 2023 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: https://www.ultindia.org/current_issues.html]