HAVE YOU EVER gossiped about someone, then regretted it for years, unable to apologize because you lost touch with the person? That’s me. So Rosie Knox, wherever you are, I apologize for all the horrible things I said about you in sixth grade. And while I’m at it, I apologize to all the hundreds if not thousands of people I’ve hurt with selfish speech. And I apologize to myself for filling my mind with nasty thoughts and creating the karmic causes to be the object of others’ gossip in the future. Where did I ever get the idea that gossip would make me happy?
Gossip has many allures; otherwise we wouldn’t enjoy doing it. It has entertainment value, and anyone can participate. But what exactly is it that makes us tingle with excitement when using wrong speech? Do we think we’ll shine brighter by exposing another’s faults? Or that we’ll bond with others through maligning a common outsider? Or will we be empowered, especially if we feel oppressed by someone in authority? These so-called advantages of unskillful speech need to be investigated further.
Gossip can mean many things, from benignly shared information about someone not present to false rumors insidiously spread, to idle chitchat about someone’s personal life. The question to ask is: What is our motivation when we talk about others? From a Buddhist perspective, the value of our speech depends principally upon the motivation behind it.
When talking about others is motivated by thoughts of ill will, jealousy, or attachment, conversations turn into gossip. These thoughts may seem to be subconscious, but if we pay close attention to our mind we’ll be able to catch them in the act. Many of these are thoughts that we don’t want to acknowledge to ourselves, let alone to others, but my experience is that when I become courageous enough to notice and admit them, I’m on my way to letting them go. Also, there’s a certain humor to the illogical way that these negative thoughts purport to bring us happiness. Learning to laugh at our wrong ways of thinking can be therapeutic.
LET’S INVESTIGATE to see if we’ve had any of these thoughts. By unearthing them, we can check if they’re accurate or not. Do any of these examples sound familiar?
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