Life has taught me a lot about the nature of people and their need to understand things, even when it really isn’t something they need to know. Sometimes it’s out of concern, sometimes out of love, sometimes out of sheer nosiness. I recently discovered The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, which teaches us how to create and live in our own reality without being dragged down by everyone else’s. One of the things that the book touches on is how toxic gossip is. People get wind of a little tidbit and have an almost uncontrollable urge to share. The juicier the tidbit, the harder it is to leave it alone. Once it is out, it quickly grows a life of its own. It is hurtful and contagious, and can easily pull us in a direction we might not, and probably should not want to go. Many of us feed on it. The more we get, the more we want. Alice Roosevelt Longworth is quoted as saying, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me!” Since gossip is usually triggered by an experience that we perceive as negative, it tends to generate even more negative energy as it passes from one host to another, like a computer virus. And like a virus, it spreads quickly.
Let’s say for example that a neighbor loses their home to foreclosure. They have lived there for many years, and suddenly, they are out on the street. Almost immediately, the thoughts start buzzing: Why did it happen? How can the bank do that to them? Why didn’t the person see it coming? Why didn’t they do something to avoid it? Why isn’t their family taking them in? We start looking for answers to questions that, maybe, we shouldn’t be asking. Did they lose their job? Do they have a gambling problem? Do they have problems managing their money? Did they try to hard to look successful when they weren’t? Did they get caught up in a refinancing scheme that caused their payments to balloon beyond reason? Are they having health problems and can’t pay the bills?
We look for fault. We look for blame. We start reading things into the situation that may not even exist. People start talking: “I’ll bet…” or “Did you hear…?” or “I always knew…” or “Can you believe…?” They jump to conclusions, or react with strong emotion, because (1) they empathize with someone they like, (2) they don’t really understand the nuances of what really happened, and (3) they are adding elements of their own judgment based on their limited point of view. People talk. They spread rumors. They don’t check the facts. They assume facts that never existed. They feel like they need to understand that is someone else’s personal business. They take ownership of the situation that isn’t theirs to own.
We also have a tendency to want to take sides in a situation. We want to see things as black and white, when in truth, every situation is a neutral gray. It is the thoughts we put into a situation that force it one way or the other. And gossip doesn’t have to be shared to work its magic. The gossip we create affects our own mind and our own point of view, even if we never share it with anyone else!
The instant gratification of television news and social media has conditioned us to feel like we are entitled to know private details of other people’s lives, even complete strangers. It also encourages us to take sides as a result of the proliferation of personal opinions we hear when a situation occurs. How often do we hear about how online bullying and gossip can ruin people’s reputations and their lives? Why don’t we realize that this is like pouring gasoline on a fire? We react and make judgments that are beyond our responsibility in this life, and we cause undue harm in the process.
There is an expression I have heard many times over the years: When you ASSUME, it makes an “ASS out of U and ME.” There are situations that might make it easier for this to happen. To protect themselves or their family, or to avoid hurting a related party’s reputation, people dealing with an uncomfortable event in their life might be reluctant to discuss the details, or they may choose to describe them generically, intentionally omitting details to avoid creating the wrong impression to someone who wasn’t intimately involved in the situation. Because we tend to see this omission as “hiding something,” it triggers speculation, which leads to more assumptions, more gossip, and more negative energy. It is a vicious cycle.
It is important to remember that unless we know the facts of the situation – not what we think or assume, but what we know because we were directly involved – we are insulated from the real truth. We can’t reach a fair judgement without having been there, or understanding all sides of a situation. Most of us don’t take the time, or even care to dig this deep, and even more often, the parties involved are silent about their private matters, making it that much harder for us to have a true understanding.
So what does this mean? A friend of mine liked to tell people, “mind your business and leave mine alone.” We don’t really need to know. We might want to know, but we don’t need to know. But we can avoid this cycle of negativity. We can show empathy and love without having to know every juicy detail. Yes, the situation happened. Yes there was a reason, whatever it was. And now it is time to heal. Provide encouragement. Provide a hug. Don’t drag someone further into a tailspin because of our own selfish desire to know more.
One of my favorite expressions is “Let Go and Let God.” It means that we don’t need to be bogged down by trying to fix the world’s problems. It doesn’t mean we should ignore them, but we shouldn’t let things we can’t change drive us crazy. We can’t fix someone else’s problems. It is not our position to help unless someone wants our help. It’s okay to offer, if we have intention of genuine concern and love, but let the person accept. Don’t ask questions, just help them with what they want. What is done is done and cannot be changed. We can only move forward. By avoiding taking responsibility for someone else’s experiences, we help that person move forward positively. Getting caught up in someone else’s personal problems doesn’t help anyone, and keeps everyone from getting past it. We can only take responsibility for out own business, no matter how tempting it is to start taking responsibility for others’.
The Four Agreements teaches ancient wisdom which we can use to maintain a positive attitude and develop true freedom from the difficulties we create in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. If we are careful with our words, we won’t create unnecessary negative energy or harm. If we don’t take situations personally, we can remain impartial and objective, allowing a situation to take its course naturally. If we don’t make assumptions, we avoid misunderstandings and embarrassment. And if we make our best effort in doing these things, we help maintain an even keel in any situation.
So in a nutshell, mind your own business. If we take responsibility for our own problems and let others do the same, things will play out naturally, without unnecessary chaos. If someone has a difficult situation, don’t worry about how they got that way. Just bless them with your love and compassion. If they want your opinion, or to tell you the details, they will. If not, there is a reason for it, and it isn’t our place to push for details or to make up our own to fill the gaps. Act in love, and you create love. Let Go and Let God. And mind your own gossip!