Jay Rifenbary

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Gossip vs. Opinion Is a Fine Line

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We have all found ourselves in situations where discussing others is a dominant topic of conversation. Many times it is challenging to distinguish between gossip and the offering of a constructive opinion or observation about another individual's behavior. An initial awareness of the reason for the conversation is critical to that determination. If the conversation focuses on demeaning the individual rather than analyzing the outcome of that individual's behavior it is gossip, and degrades the credibility of those conversing. If the conversation focuses on a lesson learned from the behavior of another it is an opinion, and can be beneficial in stimulating further discussion and exposure to varying thoughts and ideas from others.

Gossip is defined as, "idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal and private affairs of others". Idle in the context of talk refers to conversation that is of no real worth, importance or significance. Opinion is defined as, "a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty". Although an opinion may lack certainty, it is the basis for many discussions, and can lead toward further understanding about any issue or topic brought forward.

There is a direct correlation between personal insecurity and your susceptibility to gossip. The more insecure you are, the greater need to feel better about who you are. The easiest and most irresponsible way to achieve that is to point out the faults, mistakes, misbehaviors and perceived character flaws of another. How often to you regress and gossip about another, rather than offer a constructive opinion about another's behavior? What is the reason for your gossip? Is it to make you feel more important, righteous, or validate your own beliefs? How do you actually feel in the aftermath of gossiping? How proud could you possibly feel about your own integrity, professionalism and character when you have just undermined another person? How often do you unfairly judge an individual, when you may not understand what it is like to be in their shoes? For example, it is unfair to judge a homeless person when you have never been homeless. However, it is appropriate to offer an opinion about a harmful behavior of a homeless person, or of any person, if the behavior endangers others. It is understandable to associate behavior with one's character, but it is important to recognize that is not always accurate. Are all the behavioral mistakes you have made a direction reflection of the quality of your character? We all make mistakes, but it is the consistency and repetition of those mistakes that begin to align character with behavior. As the Greek philosopher Socrates said, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”

Gossip is negative energy, wasted time, and does not contribute anything positive to your personal or professional development. Awareness is a start, but acting on that awareness is the key to eliminating the desire to gossip. Ask yourself these questions if you sense you may fall into the trap of gossiping. Is it necessary for me to gossip about this person, and what is the purpose in doing it? *What is achieved, and is there any positive benefit from degrading that person? *How does gossiping reflect my own character? *Is gossiping an honest reflection of the core values I believe to be important? Begin to answer those questions truthfully and you will be on your way to eliminating the desire or need to gossip. You will catch yourself short when you do, and will be proud that you were able to potentially formulate an opinion about a behavior rather than be emotionally judgmental and critical of another person and their character. To counter gossip is also an opportunity to take a higher path of ethical behavior, because you demonstrate that the degradation of another is counterproductive to lessons learned from analyzing a behavior. As Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius stated is his “Meditations”, “How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”



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