Gossiping is something that exists extensively in small communities and is a very contentious issue. Gossip can be deeply hurtful, but informal communication has always existed. There are always people who have privileged information who will share with people they know better than others. Particularly, people whose communications are marginalized/belittled (women, queer folks, people of color, etc) are described as gossiping, in a way that other people aren’t. The way that lots of these folks have access to information that will make it easier to survive can sometimes be unreasonably called gossip. Here are some tips on how to continue to engage in the thing that we all love to do while minimizing some of the yuckier side-effects.
So what makes an ethical gossip?
There’s gossip and there’s gossip. The difference in these is the quality of mean-spiritedness behind the information exchanged.
Consider your audience
Sharing certain information makes a big difference in a crowd versus one-on-one. You may want to be able to tell a big, splashy story that will make people gasp- but consider the stories that you share. If you need big, splashy stories, maybe you should go get yourself caught up in one.
You can always talk about your feelings
If you’re mad, or frustrated, or annoyed, or just need to say something petty about your co-worker’s new girlfriend, you can say it, but acknowledge that those are your feelings. You are not actually the boss of whether or not somebody is a good/worthwhile/deserving person. But you can feel all kinds of ways about them, and you don’t have to like them, and you don’t have to trust them. Your feelings and experience can be totally valid, but they don’t necessitate specific action on anyone else’s part.
It’s helpful to acknowledge the context of your feelings
You may feel like you want to burn their house down/punch them in the face/write “LIAR! LIAR! LIAR!” on their car. You can feel that way! You are allowed to feel your feelings!
You are not actually allowed to do any of those things- because they are illegal and hurtful and inadvisable. The need for catharsis is real, but try to engage it in ways that will not get you into actual trouble.
Community accountability and gossip are not the same things.
There is a big difference between “this person is a sexual predator in the community” and “she made out with my friend after we had been broken up for two weeks.” Most folks who experience things like assault and harassment in small communities don’t realize that the person who did that to them may be engaged in toxic patterns of behavior across the community and the only way they might find out is by ‘gossiping.’
Lots of things are not your business
You can feel however you want about what people do, and you can tell people how you feel! But why they did that or she said this- these things are not your business! So you can talk about them all you want, but bear in mind your opinion matters to you and the people on Team You but is not the problem of the people who you are talking about.
You Don’t Have to Like Everyone
Sometimes women in particular feel like they have to like everyone, but they don’t, and then wind up engaging in icky passive-aggressive behaviors (like really mean-spirited gossip) because they cannot reconcile “I’m a nice person!” with “I don’t like that person.”
Nobody said you had to make them a friendship bracelet- if you don’t like them, try to avoid hanging around them too much. If the person you don’t like is deep in your friend group and your group of friends only ever gets together as a big cluster, consider treating yourself to some small friend-clusters.
Good luck, and keep these things in mind when you’re running your mouth! You don’t have to stop gossiping, but these are some ways to be more conscientious about it.