People like to talk about other people. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s not about good stuff. They like to disclose other people’s hardships, because it’s more fun than dealing with their own.
This has become an issue in the office, home and classroom environments.
At an academic institution, shouldn’t people be talking about innovative ideas and debating meaningful topics? A university is a place to stretch one’s mind and learn how to be a contributing member of society, not to spread rumors about one another.
Henry Thomas Buckle, a 19th century historian, is attributed with saying, “Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about (other) persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.”
Did anyone ever change the world solely by talking with their colleagues about how much money their boss makes? World changers talk about ideas, then take action on those ideas.
Successful people are cheerleaders — they root for their others — they aren’t gossipers and rumor starters. Encouragement is like oxygen, and where it is given, it is also received.
Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, is the lead author of a study that found strong associations between positively judging others and how enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous, emotionally stable and capable the person describes themselves and is described by others.
“Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality,” Wood said.
Wood went on to describe how seeing others positively reveals our own positive traits, while negative perceptions of others are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior. Seeing and speaking about the good in others is healthy.
When talking about someone who isn’t present, speak as if they were in the room with you, this way, if they happened to randomly walk in, they would only hear appropriate wording.
It is better to talk negatively about someone directly to their face, then the conflict can be dealt with immediately and the plague of gossip won’t spread. But, it’s even better to refrain from talking negatively about people completely.
Demeaning speech and rumors about other people don’t have to be tolerated. Everyone has the ability to keep their friends and acquaintances accountable, and if the person blabbering won’t listen to the rebuke, it’s OK to walk away. A person spewing disrespectful chatter doesn’t need an audience.
A little harsh? Maybe. But it’s really important to examine the things we communicate, because when left unchecked, a word spoken in carelessness can have vast, unintended consequences.
Even when someone knows an incredible amount of detailed information about someone else, they don’t have to share it. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing.
The Greek philosopher Socrates is attributed to proposing the idea, “Is it true, is it kind, or is it necessary?” as a prerequisite to speaking about others. It’s not always bad to talk about other people, but even if the things someone is talking about are true, are they kind or necessary?
Life is simpler without gossip. Let’s talk about something else instead.
Andrew Brand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org