Quote of the Day: Gossip

 

“It is just as cowardly to judge an absent person as it is wicked to strike a defenseless one. Only the ignorant and narrow-minded gossip, for they speak of persons instead of things.” — Lawrence G. Lovasik

Father Lovasik didn’t mince words. He made it clear that gossip is a hateful activity, and those who indulged in it were to be held in contempt.

And yet is there anyone who doesn’t gossip?

In many ways, gossip is difficult to avoid. How can we talk about our lives without talking about others? For many of us, our interactions with others fill a large part of our lives—at home, at work, and in our recreation. But it’s worth looking at how we engage in gossip, not only what we say about a person, but the motives behind our behavior.

For one, I think we often gossip about others because we don’t like them, or what they say, or what they support. When you hold someone in disdain, it’s easy to find fault with him. We also experience a certain gratification when we discount someone else, because it puts us in the position of elevating ourselves. We would never say something like that. We couldn’t imagine ourselves expressing ideas like those ideas. So we deride people, and in the act, we demonstrate our superiority.

Judaism has strict laws against gossip, also known as lashon hara:

Rabbinic law distinguishes between various categories of talebearing (rekhilut), slandering, scandalmongering etc. Every kind of trafficking in evil report or rumors—whether true or not—by carrying them from one person to another, or by relating unpleasant or harmful facts about another, is forbidden. The rabbis forbade even “the dust of lashon hara” [avak lashon hara], i.e., lashon hara by insinuation, as in saying ‘do not mention so-and-so for I do not wish to tell in what he was involved,’ or in praising a person to his enemy since this also invites lashon hara.

But if gossip is so easy to indulge in, how do we stop doing it? I’ve found it very difficult to restrain myself, especially when someone angers or frustrates me; I think subconsciously I rationalize that they deserve my criticism, and therefore they give me the “right” to tell others about them. The person may be a person worthy of disapproval, but have they given me the right to gossip about them, or damage their reputation?

At times, I also feel the desire to “vent” my exasperation about people. It reduces my stress and anger, and I’ll usually feel better about the situation.

At least for a while.

I’ve thought about the subject of gossip for a long time. In Judaism, destroying a person’s reputation is a sin. I’ve discovered that it seems impossible to completely avoid gossiping. I’ve resolved as much as possible to limit how much and often I gossip about others. When I’m in a conversation where someone else gossips, I usually try to dissuade them from pursuing that line of discussion or change the topic. But at the very least, I try to refrain from gossiping myself. It only puts more ugliness in the world.

And what about Ricochet? Do our posts about people reflect our approval of gossip?

[photo courtesy of unsplash.com]

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  1. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    I know the Bible has a lot to say about the subject . . .

    • #1
  2. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Words are very powerful. Everyone cares – at least a little – about what others say about them. And gossip has a tendency to create and reinforce feedback loops. Call someone cheap or greedy or loose or stupid, and you will affect your own understanding of that person, all the perception of all who hear your words. Gossip cascades ever-downward, breaking things along the way.

    • #2
  3. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I used to gossip a lot more. I used to laugh at, “If you can’t say anything nice, sit next to me!”

    Then I changed my environment, to a place where people are very, very careful about putting others down. And it works. The effects are deep and beautiful.

    Take, for example, a kid who had a stupid few years in the 14-17 range. Gossip, the self-reinforcing feedback loop of observation, can keep that kid perpetually limited by whatever stupid things he or she did.

    Without gossip, kids can pick themselves up, straighten themselves out, and, without resistance from those around them, grow into adulthood and put the past behind them.

    Keeping your mouth shut and only opening it to say positive things can transform lives for the better.

    • #3
  4. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Russian combat pilot Anna Egorova remembered her mother ”kneeling before the icons, as she firstly listed all our names, the names of her children, begging God for health and wisdom for us, and then at the end of each prayer repeating: ‘God save them from slander!’”  

    She didn’t understand that word ‘slander’ in her childhood, Egorova wrote, but after her brother was sent away as An Enemy of the People, “it was exposed before me in all its terrible nakedness.”

    When Slander Goes Rampant.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Russian combat pilot Anna Egorova remembered her mother ”kneeling before the icons, as she firstly listed all our names, the names of her children, begging God for health and wisdom for us, and then at the end of each prayer repeating: ‘God save them from slander!’”

    She didn’t understand that word ‘slander’ in her childhood, Egorova wrote, but after her brother was sent away as An Enemy of the People, “it was exposed before me in all its terrible nakedness.”

    When Slander Goes Rampant.

    An excellent piece, David. We can slander or gossip about not only individuals, but groups, too. I like what you said at the end of your article:

    “Indeed, much political writing and speech these days is reminiscent of the two-minute hate sessions which were a feature of the totalitarian society portrayed in Orwell’s 1984.  Any day on Facebook, one can see the sharing and sometimes the origination of extreme and even vile assertions about individuals and whole groups…usually people and groups that are Designated Targets, similarly to Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984.”

    I wonder if anyone will speak to our conversations that we have on Ricochet? I am not guiltless. . .

     

    • #5
  6. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    iWe (View Comment):

    I used to gossip a lot more. I used to laugh at, “If you can’t say anything nice, sit next to me!”

    Then I changed my environment, to a place where people are very, very careful about putting others down. And it works. The effects are deep and beautiful.

    Take, for example, a kid who had a stupid few years in the 14-17 range. Gossip, the self-reinforcing feedback loop of observation, can keep that kid perpetually limited by whatever stupid things he or she did.

    Without gossip, kids can pick themselves up, straighten themselves out, and, without resistance from those around them, grow into adulthood and put the past behind them.

    Keeping your mouth shut and only opening it to say positive things can transform lives for the better.

    When I first learned about and banned FaceBook in my home (and everywhere else I control internet access), I was merely reacting to its invasive terms of service.  After watching from the sidelines for many years, I’ve come to the conclusion the core appeal of it is gossip.  And worse:  misdeeds or foolishness exposed on FB is effectively permanent.  There’s no way to present a legitimately rehabilitated image to the world.

    Social media is an accelerant for gossip.

    • #6
  7. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    When I am tempted to repeat gossip, I remind myself that once words leave my mouth, there is never, ever any way to take them back.

    It’s more difficult than putting toothpaste back into the tube.

    • #7
  8. Misthiocracy has never Member
    Misthiocracy has never
    @Misthiocracy

    Virtually all political speech can be characterized as gossip. For example, everything I’ve ever said or written about Justin Trudeau is based entirely on second-hand information I’ve received from media sources, and he’s never been in the room to challenge what I’ve said or written about him.

    • #8
  9. KCVolunteer Lincoln
    KCVolunteer
    @KCVolunteer

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):
    Social media is an accelerant for gossip.

    No doubt about it!

    • #10
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):
    Virtually all political speech can be characterized as gossip.

    That’s what I was hinting at in the OP and my comment. How do we critique our political leaders? In a closet?

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    KCVolunteer (View Comment):

    Perfect, KC!! 

    • #12
  13. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

    Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

    From Catholic Answers:

    There are two things to note here. The first is that the claim “What I said is true” is no defense against the charge of detraction. In fact, the very definition of detraction requires that what you say about the other person—the information that you reveal that may do damage to his reputation—must be true. If what you say is false, then by definition you aren’t engaged in detraction; you are engaged in the related sin of calumny.

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

    Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

    From Catholic Answers:

    There are two things to note here. The first is that the claim “What I said is true” is no defense against the charge of detraction. In fact, the very definition of detraction requires that what you say about the other person—the information that you reveal that may do damage to his reputation—must be true. If what you say is false, then by definition you aren’t engaged in detraction; you are engaged in the related sin of calumny.

    These are excellent statements, Doug. I especially appreciated this sentence:

    No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

    • #14
  15. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):
    Virtually all political speech can be characterized as gossip.

    That’s what I was hinting at in the OP and my comment. How do we critique our political leaders? In a closet?

    The stakes and scope are different in politics. Which is why no politician truly has a private life.

    My answer would be that people who thrust themselves into the public eye are no longer victims. They have made themselves the story. And their actions and words are indeed fair game, because they no longer are supposed to represent only themselves.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy has never (View Comment):
    Virtually all political speech can be characterized as gossip.

    That’s what I was hinting at in the OP and my comment. How do we critique our political leaders? In a closet?

    The stakes and scope are different in politics. Which is why no politician truly has a private life.

    My answer would be that people who thrust themselves into the public eye are no longer victims. They have made themselves the story. And their actions and words are indeed fair game, because they no longer are supposed to represent only themselves.

    So are celebrities fair game?

    • #16
  17. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I disagree quite strongly with this quote of the day, even the opening sentence.

    I don’t think that it is cowardly to strike a defenseless person.  If a defenseless enemy is sleeping in a building, I don’t see anything cowardly about an airstrike or missile strike that kills him.

    I don’t think it’s cowardly to judge an absent person.  It may indicate a lack of due process, though even that would depend on the circumstances.  For example, I don’t see anything wrong with a trial in absentia of someone who was given an opportunity to defend himself, but fled (perhaps by skipping bail).

    Turning to the second sentence, “gossip” is generally considered bad by definition, though the definition isn’t necessarily obvious.  Referring to a truthful, or well-founded, report of another’s bad behavior or character as “gossip” would actually seem, to me, to be an evasion.

    Further I don’t see any reason for someone engaging in “gossip” be either necessarily narrow-minded or ignorant. 

    So the quote seems, to me, to be making false or inaccurate analogies.

    The first sentence, about “cowardice,” reminds me of the insistence of some people in the George W. Bush administration that “suicide bombers” were “cowards.”  I seem to recall Condoleezza Rice saying this, though I’m not completely sure of the source, and I think that it was said by others, too.

    There is nothing cowardly about being a suicide bomber.  It strikes me as a very courageous thing to do.  Misguided, perhaps, but not cowardly.

    So the entire quote of the day comes across, to me, as misleading name-calling.  That doesn’t seem like a good thing, to me.

    Lovacik, by the way, appears to have been a Catholic Priest, not a “pastor.”  The term “pastor” is typically used to refer to Protestant ministers.

    So I find myself critical of the quote of the day, Susan, though this is in contrast to your comments on gossip, which are thoughtful and sophisticated, I think, though they do raise some questions for me.  (Next comment.)

    • #17
  18. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Susan, your commentary states:

    Susan Quinn: In Judaism, destroying a person’s reputation is a sin.

    Is this always the case?  Does it depend on whether or not the destruction of the person’s reputation is truthful?

    As an example, imagine that a rabbi has had an adulterous affair.  Would it be a sin to talk about this misconduct?  It would probably destroy the rabbi’s reputation.  On the other hand, it could be relevant information, I think.  Such misbehavior doesn’t have to be concealed, does in?

    The problem may be with the definition of “gossip.”

    Responding to a valid point that someone else has made with an attack on the character or actions of the speaker, even if truthful, strikes me as an evasion.  I think that it would typically be called an “ad hominem” argument, seeking to discredit the critic.  This might be justified, though, if the validity or truthfulness of the point is in question.

    This leads me to think about MLK’s statement about judging people according to “the content of their character.”  If we’re going to do so, we need information, right?  That would imply that we do need to talk about the behavior of other people.  Bad behavior might be particularly relevant to forming such a judgment, I think.

    I do appreciate your approach to this issue, Susan.  I think that the situation is complicated.

    It’s a bit like the objection, in school, to someone who is a “tattletale.”  I remember this criticism, though not generally directed at me.  It does seem to imply that there’s an obligation to conceal the wrongdoing of one’s classmates and friends.  That doesn’t actually seem like a good thing.

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    You’re right, Jerry. He’s Father Lovasik.

    • #19
  20. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Lovacik, by the way, appears to have been a Catholic Priest, not a “pastor.”  The term “pastor” is typically used to refer to Protestant ministers.

    A Catholic priest who leads a parish is a pastor.  Assistant priests and those working for the diocese in other jobs are not pastors.

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    Lovacik, by the way, appears to have been a Catholic Priest, not a “pastor.” The term “pastor” is typically used to refer to Protestant ministers.

    A Catholic priest who leads a parish is a pastor. Assistant priests and those working for the diocese in other jobs are not pastors.

    Thanks, Phil.

    • #21
  22. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    iWe (View Comment):

    I used to gossip a lot more. I used to laugh at, “If you can’t say anything nice, sit next to me!”

    Then I changed my environment, to a place where people are very, very careful about putting others down. And it works. The effects are deep and beautiful.

    Take, for example, a kid who had a stupid few years in the 14-17 range. Gossip, the self-reinforcing feedback loop of observation, can keep that kid perpetually limited by whatever stupid things he or she did.

    Without gossip, kids can pick themselves up, straighten themselves out, and, without resistance from those around them, grow into adulthood and put the past behind them.

    Keeping your mouth shut and only opening it to say positive things can transform lives for the better.

    Very profound observation. When we humanly turn to gossip, we are assisting a negative stereotype of an individual.

    We weren’t put on earth to do that. We are supposed to help one another and make things better. The former is our animal nature. The latter is our divine.

    • #22
  23. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    I disagree quite strongly with this quote of the day, even the opening sentence.

    I don’t think that it is cowardly to strike a defenseless person. If a defenseless enemy is sleeping in a building, I don’t see anything cowardly about an airstrike or missile strike that kills him.

    I don’t think it’s cowardly to judge an absent person. It may indicate a lack of due process, though even that would depend on the circumstances. For example, I don’t see anything wrong with a trial in absentia of someone who was given an opportunity to defend himself, but fled (perhaps by skipping bail).

    Turning to the second sentence, “gossip” is generally considered bad by definition, though the definition isn’t necessarily obvious. Referring to a truthful, or well-founded, report of another’s bad behavior or character as “gossip” would actually seem, to me, to be an evasion.

    Further I don’t see any reason for someone engaging in “gossip” be either necessarily narrow-minded or ignorant.

    So the quote seems, to me, to be making false or inaccurate analogies.

    The first sentence, about “cowardice,” reminds me of the insistence of some people in the George W. Bush administration that “suicide bombers” were “cowards.” I seem to recall Condoleezza Rice saying this, though I’m not completely sure of the source, and I think that it was said by others, too.

    There is nothing cowardly about being a suicide bomber. It strikes me as a very courageous thing to do. Misguided, perhaps, but not cowardly.

    So the entire quote of the day comes across, to me, as misleading name-calling. That doesn’t seem like a good thing, to me.

    Lovacik, by the way, appears to have been a Catholic Priest, not a “pastor.” The term “pastor” is typically used to refer to Protestant ministers.

    So I find myself critical of the quote of the day, Susan, though this is in contrast to your comments on gossip, which are thoughtful and sophisticated, I think, though they do raise some questions for me. (Next comment.)

    I’m with you on this one.  The entire quote is nonsensical. What does it even mean to “speak of persons and not things?”  Should we not talk about people?  Not even about the good they do?  If someone is a thief, should we not warn others who might leave their property in jeopardy that such and such person has been known to steal?

    The premise of this post is off kilter.  It is another one of those common things to say that purport to contain wisdom and in fact are empty.  It’s like Polonius’ advice to his son:  Empty words.

    • #23
  24. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I have an honest question: when is passing on information, gossip?

    We had a couple in our Sunday School. She came  To our Christmas party solo.  And it became clear that her husband hadn’t just missed showing up but that’s something that had happened. So I went to somebody in our class who knew them well and asked what was going on. He told me what was going on. 

    Is that gossip? He told me facts. Should we just not covey information? 

     

    • #24
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I have an honest question: when is passing on information, gossip?

    We had a couple in our Sunday School. She came To our Christmas party solo. And it became clear that her husband hadn’t just missed showing up but that’s something that had happened. So I went to somebody in our class who knew them well and asked what was going on. He told me what was going on.

    Is that gossip? He told me facts. Should we just not covey information?

     

    I think you asked out of concern, Bryan, not self-serving curiosity. To me, there’s a difference. If the two of you had spent more time guessing  about him beyond the facts, that would have been gossip.

    • #25
  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I have an honest question: when is passing on information, gossip?

    We had a couple in our Sunday School. She came To our Christmas party solo. And it became clear that her husband hadn’t just missed showing up but that’s something that had happened. So I went to somebody in our class who knew them well and asked what was going on. He told me what was going on.

    Is that gossip? He told me facts. Should we just not covey information?

     

    I think you asked out of concern, Bryan, not self-serving curiosity. To me, there’s a difference. If the two of you had spent more time guessing about him beyond the facts, that would have been gossip.

    That makes sense. 

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I’m with you on this one.  The entire quote is nonsensical. What does it even mean to “speak of persons and not things?”  Should we not talk about people?  Not even about the good they do?  If someone is a thief, should we not warn others who might leave their property in jeopardy that such and such person has been known to steal?

    The premise of this post is off kilter.  It is another one of those common things to say that purport to contain wisdom and in fact are empty.  It’s like Polonius’ advice to his son:  Empty words.

    When we speak of things, no person’s reputation will be damaged. “Things” can include activities, events, projects. The one place I agree with you is that I think that speaking of good things people do seems harmless, even kind. But then we can inflate what they do, which can inflate them. If you saw a person steal something, report them to the person they stole from or to the police. You don’t know for sure they were stealing; maybe a neighbor told the person to stop by and pick something up. But you’re prepared to destroy that person’s reputation because you assumed he or she is stealing?

    I could also draw all kinds of conclusions about the kind of person I think you are. You might say that you don’t care. But I would.

    • #27
  28. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I could also draw all kinds of conclusions about the kind of person I think you are.

    Many years ago, @Skyler and I disagreed about whether a person can change. I argued that our beliefs are prescriptive: if you think you can change, then you can. If you think you cannot change, then you cannot.

    It seems to me that gossip can be understood in this same context: Skyler believes that our choices/words do not change us – so they probably cannot change anyone else, either. In which case, gossip is just good fun. 

    I believe that we are defined by our choices, and we have the power to change ourselves – but only if we believe we have that power. Many more people act as Skyler believes. The vast majority of the world believes in Nature and Nurture, that DNA and accident of birth defines who you are and what you can be. 

    Whatever you believe becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Skyler cannot change, because he knows he cannot. I can change because I know I can. 

    • #28
  29. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    iWe (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    I could also draw all kinds of conclusions about the kind of person I think you are.

    Many years ago, @ Skyler and I disagreed about whether a person can change. I argued that our beliefs are prescriptive: if you think you can change, then you can. If you think you cannot change, then you cannot.

    It seems to me that gossip can be understood in this same context: Skyler believes that our choices/words do not change us – so they probably cannot change anyone else, either. In which case, gossip is just good fun.

    I believe that we are defined by our choices, and we have the power to change ourselves – but only if we believe we have that power. Many more people act as Skyler believes. The vast majority of the world believes in Nature and Nurture, that DNA and accident of birth defines who you are and what you can be.

    Whatever you believe becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Skyler cannot change, because he knows he cannot. I can change because I know I can.

    I think you are both wrong.

    I might know that I am a woman, but that doesn’t make it so.  I might know that I will be the greatest basketball player ever, but that won’t replace all my slow-twitch muscle fibers with fast-twitch to enable me to leap like Jordan.

    So too with some cognitive gifts.  Gifts.

    At the same time, if I did not think I could be an engineer, where my talents lay, I certainly wouldn’t have become one.

    Some things in life require talent, effort, and the self-confidence to pursue it.

    • #29
  30. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    I might know that I am a woman, but that doesn’t make it so.  I might know that I will be the greatest basketball player ever, but that won’t replace all my slow-twitch muscle fibers with fast-twitch to enable me to leap like Jordan.

    So too with some cognitive gifts.  Gifts.

    I agree and disagree with you, Phil! My husband and I would periodically have this argument–whether a person could become whatever he or she felt she could be. I said no; he said yes. In some cases, it’s a matter of degree. For example, I’ll never be a great opera singer. But at one point I had some voice lessons and discovered I had a range and quality I never realized. So I could have become a singer of sorts. Just not a great opera singer.

    There are many things over the last 10 years that I would have never imagined myself doing, but I tried them anyway with heart and intention. And I was able to do them. Was I the best in league at what I did? Not hardly. But I felt I did very good work or grew to my satisfaction. So much has to do with our own thinking.

     

    • #30
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