8.40 Gossip (& Shame)


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8/40 From the desk of Rabbi Brian



Gossip (& Shame)


Do you seek spiritual-religious fitness? If so, you probably know that what goes into your mouth (i.e., food) is equally as important as what comes out (i.e., words). Think of the phrase: garbage in, garbage out. With that in mind, let’s look at the topic of gossip.


What is gossip?

And why do we engage in it?

Let’s start by examining the etymology of the word. In English, “gossip” comes from combining the words “God” and “sib,” meaning God-siblings – the people with whom you are closest. (Historically, these are the individuals who would be present at the birth of your child.)

You may be familiar with the term “god parents.” God-siblings are related to that concept. My friend Lisa and I refer to each other as God-siblings; and it just so happens that she was present at the hospital when my daughter Annie was born.

“God sibs” are the people you talk with – your close ones – those with whom you easily share your most honest opinions. And naturally, they’re the people you probably dish the dirt with.

In Spanish, chisme is a word for gossip. Its etymology comes from the Arabic. It means “crap” or small little thing – like when you say, “Oh, that’s just a piece of #$%.” The origin of this word tells us a lot about what gossip really is.

If gossip is so terrible, why do we do it? My hypothesis is that “crapping on others” makes us feel bigger, better, and superior to those we’re belittling from a distance.

Gossip is a hit of ego-boost.

But there is more and it’s how gossip is related to shame…


Gossip is an attempt to address a violation of a group’s established,
normative values.

Let me explain.


As adults, we talk about other people. Sometimes we even do it maliciously. And even the best of us do it from time to time. I am going to show how gossip related to shame and the attempts to normalize a group’s values by considering this question: do 4-year-olds gossip?  Do 4-year-olds gossip?

You might be tempted to say no, children don’t gossip — at best, they tattle on each other. Kids might say, “Mommy, she pushed me” or “He said I was fat.” Emmett, my little guy, declared one day after school, “Christopher doesn’t have good manners; he doesn’t take turns.”

That’s tattling, not gossip — we might say…

Or is it?

Tattling is gossip and gossip is tattling. They are one in the same.

We gossip about people who go against our perceived notion of convention. This is the adult form of tattling. Our gossip influences others to adhere to the way we think life ought to be lived. We gossip in order to disgrace and shame other people into doing what we think is “right.” Shame is a subtle, powerful, means of encouraging conformity.

Would you be uncomfortable if people were whispering the following rumor about you: “That person has two normal-sized ears.”

No, of course not – this statement wouldn’t have any sting (or at least, I hope it wouldn’t). There is nothing shaming about it; therefore, it’s not gossip.

Words are only considered to be gossip if they would make the other person feel uncomfortable. If the other person discovered people were saying certain things about him or her, and felt shamed as a result, then it’s gossip.

Gossip-tattling is exactly what the 4-year-olds do when they tell on each other.

We ought to be mindful of what we say about others — especially when we’re trying to influence what we think is right or proper behavior.

To live a spiritual-religious live that we are proud of, we ought to be mindful about when, how, why, and to whom we talk about others.  We all have our God-sibs with whom we need to share ourselves, to get a better sense of our selves in the world.  But, outside of them… it might just be tattling or gossip.


Spiritual-religious advice: Be aware of how (and why) you talk about others.


With love,

Rabbi Brian

Rabbi Brian

The 77% Weekly

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