The need to speak of others negatively; to benefit or get a kick out of somebody else’s misfortune, or character failing is a glaring signal of one’s own weakness and frailty.
I had friends around for dinner the other night and one of them took me to one side to ‘discuss’ our mutual friend and her current woes. These woes according to this friend are ‘petty and trivial’, and in her words she has ‘had it to here’ (with accompanying hand to forehead gesture) with the ‘constant moaning’ from our mutual chum.
She goes on for quite some time, lamenting the character flaws of said chum; and asserts multiple solutions — so very obvious in her mind — for how our friend should just ‘fix’ her problems and no longer be beleaguered by troubles. How kind. The word ‘should’ featured all too often in this monologue for my liking.
I stood speechless in these moments, considering the total lack of compassion and empathy for the suffering our mutual pal was experiencing.
I didn’t bother offering a polite nod or encouraging and meagre uh-huh.
Instead I said “she is in pain, her problems are real, and big, and not trivial in any way. It’s all relative and what may be an issue for you may not be for her and vice versa.”
That shut her up.
It should be said that this gossiping and judgmental friend is herself going through a very difficult time. But she has become bitter and intolerant of others’ tribulations which is sad — I feel sad for her. Not pity sad, just sad that she cannot find solace and comfort in sharing in others’ pain — after all, this is what binds us together — the sharing and togetherness in experiencing both good, and bad.
I’ve never been a gossiper. I don’t wish to sound holier-than-thou, or take the moral high-ground. Sometimes there is nothing better than a good vent. But there’s an important distinction —
- Having a vent about somebody is airing disappointment, frustration or some such other emotion without entirely assassinating the character of the subject.
- Gossiping about somebody is gratuitous degrading and discrediting of somebody’s soul without their witnessing and therefore ability to defend themself.
The former is kind to oneself and not harmful to another. The latter is self-indulgent and very harmful to another, whether the other is aware or not is entirely irrelevant. It is unkind at best, and utterly disloyal at worst.
What bothers me the most is the ignorance of it.
It indicates such a lack of emotional intelligence when somebody gossips about another. We are all on this path of life, trying to figure it out, figure ourselves out and figure out the people that join us on the journey. The journey is hard enough without discovering that the people walking hand in hand with you are actually betraying you when you turn on your heel.
What kind of life are we living if the people we love do not have our back? What possible hope can we have about the humanity of others if the very people that should be there in our time of need are actually complaining about our own suffering? That we are a burden and that they resent offering companionship, care and love. What hope can we have for the promise of enduring friendship if that friendship is conditional on only positive shared experience?
It would be frankly unenlightened of me to ignore the fact that at times the troubles of loved ones can be draining. Yes, indeed they can. But isn’t that life? Isn’t it frankly very draining to care for a sick person? To get up in the middle of the night time and time again for a newborn? To answer the phone to our friend every day when she is in the midst of a mid-life crisis, without any of her own answers and seemingly not helping herself in any way shape or form? God yes, this is trying, testing and draining.
But this is life.
Beautiful life — abrim with its chaotic highs and lows. And where would we be without the latter? Floating on planet zog somewhere in blissful ignorance without the richness of what life truly is — deep and dark and light and colourful. It is the natural paradox of things that allows us to feel depth at both ends of the spectrum. And we must feel this depth with the people we love. This is our undeniable moral obligation in life — to hold the hands of the people we love in all moments, but most especially in times of pain and strife.
It would likewise be remiss of me to ignore the rudimentary habit of 99.9% of humankind to discuss and ponder other human beings — this is our natural inclination. And this is what enables us to refine our own form and being, by comparing and contrasting — observing and learning through the wins and mistakes of others. There is nothing wrong with this. It is benign self-awareness. And to share our lessons with others is simply a natural force of communication and community.
But to speak ill of those we love when they are not present to defend themselves is just baseless and lacking in our own character and personal integrity. It is lacking in compassion, kindness and understanding. It is forgetful of ones own desire for care when in time of need.
We must be able to go to bed at night knowing that we are cognizant of the distinction between venting and gossiping. The latter should keep us up for a night of sleeplessness.