May 08, 2010
As yourself why you gossip. If you're stumped, Nancy Baker, in "The Buddhist Guide to Gossip," has a few answers:
So why do we talk about others’ errors and faults? What’s in it for us? Well, probably a number of things. Sometimes there’s the need for reassurance that I’m right. Or that I’m good. Or that I’m at least not like that, whatever “that” may be. It can also be a way of avoiding what I imagine will be a confrontation. It’s an avoidance of telling the truth, of putting truth where it belongs. So in speaking about as opposed to speaking to someone, we’re failing to honor this precept. And that’s often what we do. We’re afraid. Also motivating us is the need to get someone over to our side on an issue. Most striking of all is the unconscious desire for intimacy with the one to whom I am speaking. But this is a delusion, since it is nothing but false intimacy. In fact, it’s amazing to think that we actually use speaking about the faults of others in order to feel connected. Notice the contradiction, the delusion, here: We use, and even create, separation from one thing or person to overcome separation from another! We are afraid of genuine contact, so we find something or someone to complain about or gossip about. It occurs to me that the “expounding upon” the errors and faults of others ... is part of this. It means telling stories about, analyzing, enjoying being very “perceptive” with another at someone else’s expense, as if this shared enterprise brings us closer together.
Next time you're about to complain to someone about someone else, try asking yourself, "What would I say to this person otherwise?" You may find yourself stumped—not a bad place to start. Joseph Goldstein once tried an experiment: What if he refrained from speaking of others altogether? He found that doing this eliminated most speech!
I'll guess plenty will want to try this because if numbers are any indication, wanting to put an end to gossip may be as popular as gossiping itself: "Seven Tips for Giving up Gossip" by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, posted by web editor Phil Ryan last fall, has been our most popular post to date...