I loathe gossip. It makes people get nasty, and it hurts feelings. It always falls into one of two categories: 1) completely, categorically false or 2) none of anyone’s damn business anyway.
Recently a mom on SocialMoms.com posed the question, how do you avoid getting involved in neighborhood gossip? This can be really difficult, because sometimes gossip comes packaged as if it were real, actual news that we should care about, and even I have gotten caught up in it once in a while.
The main thing I do is give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If someone says something to me like, “I heard Susie Jo is a bit of a drinker,” or something in that ballpark, I generally don’t respond, but give a shrug and a face that says, “Oh, ok,” and I change the subject. Because, more often than not, I barely even know the gossip target well enough to speculate on any part of their life. And this statement is textbook gossip, because it’s common enough to be true, but there are no real qualifiers aside from “a bit of a”, so it’s unclear what the statement really even means. Even if I have personally seen Susie Jo tipping back a handful of margaritas at a barbecue, I don’t say this. I stay quiet and I give Susie Jo the benefit of the doubt.
And I’m not saying you need to confront Susie Jo. If she’s kind of a good friend, and you feel like bringing it up, then do. But if you’d rather just let the rumor fade into the background, that’s good too. That’s actually my other tip: stay out of it. Confronting Susie Jo will only make her feel self-conscious (whether it’s true or not) knowing the whole neighborhood is talking about her, and she will likely resent you for it, even if you are only the messenger. It’s a tough call though. If you are good friends and you don’t say anything, she may also be upset. It’s up to you to decide. The point is if you do say anything at all, it should only be to her.
If you find that you have a chronic gossiper in your circle, it’s best to either call them out for it, letting them know you want no part of it, or you limit the time you spend with them, maybe even cutting them out altogether. Surrounding yourself with that kind of person can make you more and more like them every day. Not to mention Guilty by Association: people will know that they are a gossiper, and that you are one of their friends, and will therefore assume you gossip too.
The most important thing is learning how to recognize gossip for what it is. Which is difficult, I know. Like I said, I’ve gotten swept up in gossip before. Make it a rule to never speak about someone unless it is in a positive light (and even be careful with that) or if they are in the same room. Regard the people in your life as actual humans with actual feelings, instead of characters in a juicy novel. Their habits, their lifestyles, their choices are not yours to judge or to speculate on. Imagine how you would feel if people began gossiping about you.