The toxicity of gossip 

Jul 19, 2023 | Reflective practice

Workplaces, families, communities, schools, friendship groups, fleeting interactions in shops or out and about on the street, in fact all aspects of life, are built on gossip. It is a much celebrated event to get together and have a good chinwag; an accepted and expected way to be with each other. 

Listening to conversations at work and elsewhere in my day and, without judgement, applying a quizzical stance on what is actually being said, what is the purpose, is it enriching anyone, I am called to explore the waste of us (energy, honesty, unity) when we partake in gossip.

The idle chat of gossip that has been absorbed into our lives as harmless, curious, interesting conversation is denigrating, judgemental, opinionated, divisive and ignorant.

Too strong? No. Not if we consider the impact of my sitting here with a ‘friend’ discussing the company at last night’s supper, picking away at celebrities, criticising work colleagues, bemoaning my lot because of the actions of a, b or c. Once expressed, all of this noise is out there, percolating through our communities and beyond, setting the ground for ‘them and us’… the true pandemic in the world today.

In wilful ignorance or blindness to the impact of this idle chat we are feeding the beast that is gossip, circulation and the keeping alive of the sewage soup that abounds around us in life and in so many of our interactions.

Waking up to the toxicity of gossip and idle chat is the first step. Then clocking how it creeps into conversation, how we are tempted to join in with it and how before we realise, we are colluding.

There is the caricature of gossip being the middle-aged housewife twitching her curtains to get a look at what the neighbours are up to and then sharing what she has seen with anyone that will listen, with a large dose of speculation thrown in. This is obvious to spot. 

There is the chat at work about something that happened that pins someone, or a team to the wall… subtler, with potentially no names being mentioned but sneaky it its branding, judgement and discrediting.

There is the ‘nice’ version of gossip too, more insidious and harder to expose because what is being said is apparently nice… ‘Didn’t she look so pretty today?’ with thinly veiled jealousy, ‘I saw so and so with so and so in town today, they were having a laugh in the supermarket’… pointless? Or by tone infected with something else? 

There is a curiousity version, also dressed up in innocence, ‘How is …?’ loaded with anticipation for something salacious to feed off or the enticement into discussing … in a way you would not do if they were present.

And all the while we are allowing a poison to infuse life, a poison that feeds the then more obvious disharmony in the world, be that war, competition, domestic violence, lack of self-worth, comparison, public ‘executions’ by the media… anything that denigrates anyone is fertiliser for all that is ill in the world and gossip is one big sack of sick fertiliser.

So what is it to be in conversation with others without gossip, being prepared to be honest about our intentions and always alert to the purpose of every interaction?

At work certainly there is plenty to talk about, practical important information to share about those in our care. Watch out for the unnecessary ‘extra’ chat that is our opinion, imposes a label or generates gossip. It happens a lot in handovers… ‘She is pretty tricky and declines regular examination’, ‘Her partner is a bit standoffish’, ‘They are such a lovely couple’, ‘He is the CEO of…’ and many more. 

There is much in these apparently innocuous comments to discern and why have we got so used to adding on our opinion about things when our job is to effectively and safely share the information that will support the ongoing care of those in our care.

The interesting thing is that we all feel the, at best unnecessariness, at worst toxicity of, these add on opinions, but are so used to them, so used to filling space with extra words that we carry on, thinking that because it is statistically normal and everyone else is doing it, it must be okay.

How many times in our lives does that formula play out? Those moments when we know something is awry but go along with it anyway because ‘everyone else is’. 

On the one hand the power of the pack, but on the other hand the realisation that when one person moves from the pack everyone has the opportunity to review their moves, as in, an alternative is offered.

Back to gossip… I clock it in my everyday and am becoming more and more aware of its sneaky entrance into conversation. This awareness is at times uncomfortable, but mostly inspiring in the opportunity offered to unlearn a pattern of behaviour and practise a fresh approach.

Related Articles