Civility Corner: Don’t Gossip

by Orlaine I. Gabert, Door County Civility Project

The fourth civility tool is the only one that asks us not to do something, which is to not gossip. Clearly, civility and gossip do not have the same intent. Civility seeks positive communication with another person, even when the parties disagree. Gossip seeks to share negative, uncomplimentary, hurtful or unreliable information about someone both parties know.

Primarily, gossip resides in the context of the small communities we live in: a small town, neighborhood within a larger community, school, church or workplace. Most of us know someone whom we would call a gossip. Almost all of us listen to gossip and end up telling someone else – intentionally or unintentionally – what we’ve heard. The gossip keeps getting passed on the same way to others. 

To counteract this, we must ask the gossiper to stop talking, convey that we do not listen to this type of talk, and say that we will not tell anyone what we did hear.

A second type of gossip appears in written form. With the advent of the printing press, people were able to get news from anywhere. One widespread interest has been the rich and famous, and some tabloids sprang up to deliver information about them. Gossip columns also arose, the focus being to find and report negative and unsubstantiated information. From those who read these publications, others receive this information.

And now we have social media: an even broader way to share and receive information. Anyone can say what they feel and believe without having to prove it, so our young people face bullying and adults engage in blaming, name-calling, put-downs, threats and outrageous claims. All of this is simply another form of gossip, whose intent is to hurt someone else and have others believe the statements. 

The fourth civility tool, “Don’t gossip,” asks us not to participate in this. We can begin by not sending any of these messages, yet that’s hardly enough. We also need to filter out these types of messages if we receive them. A helpful guideline is to consider whether kindness was the sender’s intent in sharing the message. If so, be receptive; but, if the words are hurtful, the message is gossip. Delete it, and don’t pass it on.

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