If you don’t have anything nice to say…

To the Editor;

Gossip is a social disease. It isn’t unique to small communities, but this is where its effects are particularly profound, and the communities served by The Capital are certainly no exception.

There is the seemingly-benign gossip about the lives of others that is spread by decent but careless people, and there is also the ill-intentioned gossip that is spread by poisonous people. Both can be equally harmful to individuals, and to the overall health of a community.

I’ve never had much cause to reflect on this issue until having recently been the subject of some local gossip, which was concurrently paired with an individual’s malicious comments on social media - forums where brave typists are often eager to cast the first stones.

The irony is noteworthy that in such a religious community as our own, this deplorable behaviour is reinforced because it is not explicitly discouraged. In fact, gossip is often implicitly encouraged through captivated silence, or by the affirmations of nods and the familiar sounds of gasps, oooohs, and aaaahs.

Gossip has many catalysts, but psychologically, its root cause is that people yearn to make connections with other people. The healthy way to do this is to have conversations with others and disclose intimate details of one’s own life, but that comes with the real risk of those intimate disclosures being rejected or not being reciprocated. Instead, gossipers pervert this authenticity by using the details of other people’s lives to gain a superficial connection with their audience, while avoiding the emotional risk of sharing their own lives’ intimate details.

With ill-intentioned gossip, the subjects are always demeaned by it, but the people spreading the gossip also inadvertently do an immense disservice to their own character. Intelligent observers generally aren’t able to discern anything meaningful from this type of gossip, other than the evidence that the gossiper is at best a busy-body, or at worst, has a venomous nature. Sadly though, observers who do not think critically will accept the gossip at face value and make conclusions based on this biased testimonial “evidence.”

Communities are built on trust and respect between neighbours. Gossip creates suspicions that can lead to an “us-and-them” mentality of distrust or even animosity between those otherwise good people. This makes people far less likely to want to genuinely know or help each other, and it is a significant factor in driving people away from a community.

That is likely the most significant cost of gossip to any community, but there is also a more immediate economic cost. When local businesses have owners or employees who are the subjects of gossip, all parties can suffer directly when local customers take their business elsewhere. On a personal level, those maligned by the gossip will often spend less of their time and money locally, and a lose-lose cycle begins.

So when you hear gossip, you can encourage it or look the other way, but take responsibility that you are perpetuating social and economic deterioration in your community. If you want to stop gossip, then simply don’t receive, reciprocate, or repeat it, and you will have helped your community be a much more pleasant place to live for everyone.

If you find yourself in the role of the gossiper, have a closer look in the mirror, and ponder the shortcomings in your own life that are causing your chin to wag so freely about others, and so little about your own affairs.

To quote good Moms everywhere: “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

Carleton Pope

Linden, AB