We all do it. Or at least most of us. Perhaps only occasionally, and certainly not always maliciously, but gossip is part of human interaction. Whether over the backyard fence, the telephone or two martinis, virtually everyone from time to time is invited to play the gossip game.
For example, your good friend Mark tells you something about himself “but you must not tell a soul,” so you file this away as requested. A few days later, your good friend Rick tells you the same thing “inside the cone of silence.” What are you to think? Did Mark tell Rick? Or did Mark tell Steve, and Steve told Rick? By the time you run into Al, who tells you this amazing dirt on Mark, you realize that every Tom, Dick and Harry who can recognize Mark by sight has heard the story he told you and at least one other person in confidence. Tricky business, isn’t it?
We tend to be a bit more careful when gossip is about someone we care about and considerably less so when it’s about someone we barely know or even faintly dislike. Let’s look at another case study.
Roger is a not-so-nice, not-so-young, man whose attitude too often tends toward the arrogant and supercilious. Ned, who is not-so-nice but quite a bit younger, has been high-hatted by Roger just one time too many and decides to deflate Roger’s balloon by having sex with Roger’s husband, and telling it.
Now that story will fly quickly, won’t it, being told only with a caveat that “you can tell it, but don’t say you heard it from me.” No one is likely to tell Roger what is being said about him, and Ned wins the passive-aggressive round of the gossip game.
While Mark in the first example need only learn that to keep his business out of other people’s mouths is to keep it out of his mouth as well, Roger’s lesson (should he ever find out what was done to him) involves changing his behavior more fundamentally. One of the dangers of being a high-riding bitch is how much easier a target is made for a low riding one. Graciousness as a defense mechanism is something Roger should look into, but there is a bit more to it than that.
There’s a reason that envy and pride make the list of the seven deadly sins. Pride is a necessary component of positive self-esteem; excessive pride leads to nothing good. Bragging, including humblebragging, is usually the first, and arrogance is quick to follow. Ironically, such expressions of excessive pride are often interpreted as insecurity as opposed to self-assurance. Add in self-centeredness without self-awareness and a touch of insensitivity, and the prideful become a target. Just ask Ned.
Envy, in some ways, stands alone as a deadly sin. We can all actively work against our natural tendencies toward pride, sloth, greed, lust, wrath and gluttony (although that last one is a bitch), but the toxic nature of envy can insinuate itself into our lives although we are not envious ourselves. And social media does not help the situation at all.
Over the last several years, I have found myself cautioning mostly younger people, ranging from acquaintances at cocktail parties to close friends over lunch, about the effects of attracting envy and the attention of the envious. They can range from schadenfreude when there is news that something has gone wrong in one’s life to hanging a target on one’s back when it comes to dissemination of malicious gossip. Of course, the most envious—those with a bent more akin to Ned above—will look for or actively create a situation to try to punish the enviable, from letting the air of a car’s tires after dragging a key along one side of it to far more damaging inventions.
Now, lest anyone be mistaken thinking I’m ratting out the gay boys, the queens as it were, be assured that such behavior occurs all along the gender and sexual orientations spectrums. No demographic is above it.
It may be that some folks just weren’t raised right—there is a lot of that showing up. But our mothers had no way of warning us about a social environment that had not even been invented.
“Did you see what he posted? I couldn’t believe it.” “No, wait, let me go look.” I love to play that one, don’t you? All of us are free to post what we like, knowing that someone might make it into a new round in the gossip game.
Just like it is in Las Vegas, sometimes the best way to win is not to play at all. But then, I could tell you something, but you’d have to swear you won’t tell a soul…