Why Do We Gossip?
Back in the day, I had a “frenemy” who, as it turned out, was pretty hell-bent on taking me down. This person really did what they could to hurt me. I was deeply upset, I was angry, I was all of those things you feel when you find out that someone you thought you liked was venomous and dangerous. I restrained myself from fighting back. I tried to take the high road. But one day I heard that something unfortunate and humiliating had happened to this person. And my reaction was deep relief and…happiness. There went the high road. So, why does it feel so good to hear something bad about someone you don’t like? Or someone you DO like? Or someone you don’t KNOW? I once asked the editor of a tabloid newspaper why all of the stories about a famous British couple had a negative bent. He said that when the headline was positive, the paper didn’t sell. Why is that? What’s wrong with us? I asked some sages to shed a little light.
Here’s to washing our mouths out with soap.
I’m curious about the spiritual concept of “evil tongue” (speaking evil of others) and its pervasiveness in our culture. Why do people become energized when they say or read something negative about someone else? What does it say about where that person is? What are the consequences of perpetuating negativity or feeling schadenfreude?
Why do we gossip? Why do we even listen to gossip? Why do we enjoy negativity? Why do we do many things that result in our consciousness being veiled or our hearts becoming corroded? Perhaps it’s because we haven’t experienced the alternative fully enough. Perhaps we can’t bear to live at a higher vibrational level, preferring the habitual, the commonplace negativities that pass for normal everyday life.
“Remember the Bob Dylan line, “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes…you’d know what a drag it is to see you.””
In Sufism, we try to remember the advice of the Prophet Muhammad who said that gossip is worse even than adultery! “But what if what we’re saying is true?” someone asked. “That’s what I mean by gossip!” he said, “If it’s not true then it’s slander. Gossip is saying anything about anyone which, if they were to hear you say it, they would be hurt and you would be ashamed.”
“Thinking and speaking kind and positive thoughts, as much as possible, is like planting beautiful gardens around your house.”
Imagine a community of people who would be fastidious about this, people you could trust not to criticize you behind your back. (They’re still free, of course, to process problems or criticisms face to face.) It’s a very high standard to live up to. When you speak negatively of someone and they learn about it, you become detestable in their sight. Remember the Bob Dylan line, “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes…you’d know what a drag it is to see you.”
Talking negatively about others is like leaving garbage inside and outside your own house. Thinking and speaking kind and positive thoughts, as much as possible, is like planting beautiful gardens around your house. Our spiritual work is to transcend the petty ego and assume the Divine perspective. Wise as serpents, innocent as doves, we discern the good from the bad, but we don’t indulge in blame or assume we have the right to judge the souls of others. Let the Cosmos and Karma handle that. Let’s be a comfort to each other.
– Shaikh Kabir Helminski is Shaikh of the Mevlevi Order, Co-Director of The Threshold Society.