Recently I was sitting with friends, chatting and eating, when one of them said to me, "You'll want to either block your ears or leave the room for a minute."
Since I was in the company of all women, I assumed that she was going to discuss some female body issue. But having worked for 17 years in an elementary school and prior to that attended an all women's college, there are few female matters that have not been discussed in my presence.
Just last week, I was sitting with women who were discussing the impact of nursing on their nipples.
But no, this had nothing to do with breasts or vaginas or any other lady parts. My friend said, "I'm about to gossip about someone, and I know you don't like that."
Here's the thing: She wasn't annoyed. She didn't speak to me condescendingly. She didn't roll her eyes. She was friendly and matter-of-fact.
I was so happy.
It's true. I don't like gossip. I try my best not to engage in it whenever possible. This does not mean that I never speak about others behind their backs. If someone is having trouble with a friend or colleague and wants help, I am the first to listen and engage in conversation. And if I need advice about my relationship with a person, I may seek it, which requires me to talk about that person behind his or her back, too.
I avoid gossip when it is mean, petty, and unnecessary. I try to avoid engaging in it, and I often step out of the room when I find myself in its midst. I don't admonish anyone to stop. I don't roll my eyes. I am friendly and matter-of-fact about my position.
I was happy about my friend's remarks for two reasons:
- After much effort, I have carved out a space in life as a person who will not participate in gossip. It's a space I am proud to occupy and thrilled that it is recognized by others (or at least this one person).
- My position was treated with respect. It would be easy to view my opposition to gossip as an attempt to assume the moral high ground. It would be easy to feel like I am judging my friends for engaging in gossip. I am doing neither, and my friend understood this and respected it.
In deference to my friend's act of kindness and respect, I told her that I would remain in the room but thanked her for the offer. And it was true. The group them proceeded to engage in gossip that I would have normally avoided. Instead, I turned to my phone, read some emails, responded to one, and allowed the conversation to shift to something else before reengaging.
Would I like there to be less gossip in the world? Yes. I think most of us would agree.
If you don't, remember this: There is a 100% chance that you have been the victim of less-than-polite gossip in the recent past, and there is a 100% chance that it will happen again.
But I am not on an anti-gossip crusade. My crusades include getting people to wear whatever they think is comfortable, regardless of social expectation. Convincing the detractors of Mother's Day to shut the hell up. Bringing an end to the phrase "bio-break." Many more.
Avoiding gossip is a personal crusade. It's an attempt to keep my life filled with positive, enriching experiences. It's an effort to be thoughtful and productive in my conversations.
The fact that my friend acknowledged and respected this personal crusade was both impressive and appreciated.
It made my day.