Q&A - August 25, 2017

There’s an old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well, that may not be entirely true. Being gossiped about can be extremely painful. In the past, we have taken on the naysayers in this column. This week, let’s take on the gossips. Let’s explore the dangers of gossip and how to overcome it.

Q: I can’t stand it when I hear people in town gossip about others. It seems so immature and hurtful. How can we stop it?

Living in a small town among a close-knit group of people has many advantages: the local support networks, the familiarity, the sense of belonging, and a safe environment for children…just to name a few. But making your home in a small town where everyone knows each other can have its downsides, one of which is gossip. The rumor mill in most small towns is very active and can become vindictive and quite vicious at times.

It’s been said that “knowledge is power.” Unfortunately, some people like to use knowledge to spread damaging information or intimate details about others, whether true or not—this is known as “gossip.” People like to use gossip to hurt other people, to feel good about themselves, or to feel like they have power over others. In its worse form, gossip can even become “slander”—a deliberate attempt to mar someone else’s reputation or to damage them for life.

Not much good comes from gossip and we should all do our part to minimize it. So, here are a few thoughts on how to overcome gossip.

First, make a commitment you’re not going to gossip. If you don’t want it done to you, then don’t do it to others. Even though the temptation to gossip is powerful, you will always win when you choose not to use it.

Second, don’t listen to others when they gossip. Gossip needs an audience. Simply listening to it adds to its appeal. You can stop it by simply saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about this person when they’re not here to defend themselves.” Not only will you break the gossip chain, but you will also gain the respect of others. 

Third, don’t judge people based on gossip. If you hear gossip about someone, you have two choices: allow the gossip to determine what you believe, or let your own personal experience determine what you think. The latter is nearly always better.

Fourth, think before you speak. Before you repeat something you’ve heard about another person, think: does this really do any good for me to spread this information? Or am I just trying to be in the know? Is the information even true? Could I be hurting someone by telling this, even if it’s true?

And finally, stay away from people who gossip to you…they will gossip about you. Don’t associate with people who take great pleasure in belittling others. And be very careful about what information you share with these people.

Thanks for the wonderful question this week. Please keep them coming by emailing them to osuit-president@okstate.edu