“The only thing worse than being talked about,” said Oscar Wilde, “is not being talked about.”
I love gossip. I love to hear it, I love to spread it, and most of all I love to be its subject, target, and victim. In fact, I actively cultivate and disseminate disinformation about myself and others, especially when I find myself in the confines of a retreat, which is to gossip what a Petri dish is to bacteria. Because when it comes to the sterile lab work of the mind, there’s nothing more exciting than an uncontrolled experiment using live cultures. The way I look at it? If people are so bored that they’re talking about me in the first place, I’d much rather they unwittingly spread half-truths and distortions than repeat a dull litany of trivia and plodding, indisputable facts.
Yes, I know that gossip is rotten. But then, for the most part, so are we. Which is why you can spare me the po-faced, hand-wringing sermons about right speech, noble silence, and all the rest of it. Those are some fancy ideals, but I call ’em like I see ’em. And isn’t there some famous dharmic exhortation to start where you are?
My point entirely.
Our minds can’t resist chatter, our thoughts flow naturally toward the gutter, and forming opinions based on little or no information is as natural to us as breathing. Sharing those opinions and thoughts is merely the way we justify having them in the first place. This being the case, we might as well make the best of a bad job and ensure that gossip at least fulfills its function, which is to titillate, entertain, and generally cause envy, disdain, outrage, and—if it’s really juicy—awe.
Gossip gets a bad rap. True, talking trash about someone is a negative act that will almost certainly poison the minds of both speaker and listener alike. But not all gossip is venal or intentionally harmful. Just as there is right and wrong speech, I submit that there is right and wrong gossip. Because when stripped of all the blithe moral assumptions, gossip is just another word for speech. And as with speech, it’s basically neutral. The factors that color gossip—that make it right or wrong—are motivation and result.
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