September 20, 2009

Why do we gossip?

Gossip can mean many things, from benignly shared information about someone not present to false rumors insidiously spread, to idle chitchat about someone’s personal life. The question to ask is: What is our motivation when we talk about others? From a Buddhist perspective, the value of our speech depends principally upon the motivation behind it.

When talking about others is motivated by thoughts of ill will, jealousy, or attachment, conversations turn into gossip. These thoughts may seem to be subconscious, but if we pay close attention to our mind we’ll be able to catch them in the act. Many of these are thoughts that we don’t want to acknowledge to ourselves, let alone to others, but my experience is that when I become courageous enough to notice and admit them, I’m on my way to letting them go. Also, there’s a certain humor to the illogical way that these negative thoughts purport to bring us happiness. Learning to laugh at our wrong ways of thinking can be therapeutic.

—Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, from “The Truth About Gossip,” Tricycle, Summer 2006

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Jack Daw's picture

We need to examine and understand the purpose behind our words whenever we speak, whether behind someone's back or not. It is all about intent. The words never hurt anyone but the intent behind them can do some serious damage.