There’s a movie line from Steel Magnolia’s that says, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me.”
It usually gets a laugh whether delivered on screen or in-person.
But “gossip” has really gotten on my last nerve.
A reader of this blog said to me, “I don’t know how you can write all that personal stuff.” Here’s the thing – it isn’t a secret. What’s more? I don’t want things that I consider fundamental to my growth as a person or uniqueness as a personality to be kept secret.
I would rather be known.
Part of my vows to my husband included that very sentiment.
I have simply been accepted for most of my life. With my hub, I have been cherished and celebrated. He clearly gets what is exclusively mine. He loves me, not in spite of who I am or what I do, but because of it.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I recently read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. She chronicled her life over the course of a year with the aim to improve small things in order to make a big change. I like this concept. It’s very “Think globally, act locally.”
Immediately after finishing the book, I set out on my own happiness project. The initiation was around the same time as our move to St. Louis. I wasn’t working, we didn’t have a social life, we were living in someone else’s home. We needed a fresh dose of happy.
Among my initiatives were ‘make new friends,’ ‘schedule fun,’ ‘spend time alone without guilt,’ and ‘accept others.’ I had also included ‘stop gossiping.’
I never thought I had a problem with gossiping. For years, the only person I ever spoke ill of was myself! I used my shock and awe stories to determine who was worth keeping around and who wasn’t. If they could handle the truth, so to speak, they stayed. I probably burned more than a few great friendships through premature revelation. The truth is sometimes hard to share. It sometimes requires delicate framing, or softening. I had none of that discretion. My disclosures were filterless fireballs that singed everyone in their path.
Then there was a long time I didn’t share anything with anyone. No one needed to know me because I realized (with horror) how much of a work in progress I still was. You don’t get the full impression of a magnum opus at the halfway point so why bother showing a few brush strokes on a canvas?
But then I grew up again…
And realized is that no one is complete. No one is 100% healed or completely normal or fully actualized or perfect. Ever.
Here’s another secret – everyone knows that you’re not.
So why do we bother walking around pretending that we’re so evolved and full of wisdom and experience. We’re full of OUR wisdom and OUR experience. It is no more and no less valuable than anyone else’s.
In finding a partner, a friend, a mate, I think the goal is to find someone whose brand of crazy matches your own.
My partner loves to debate. We watch news shows and political commentary and read foreign press just to avoid the abject partisanship in U.S. coverage. The problem we’ve found is that not many people like that kind of discussion, intellectual or not. Most of my family avoids topics like politics and religion because with those topics comes confrontation. I respect that. Not everyone likes to acknowledge or discuss differences. But, I think it’s a mistake. Our differences aren’t shameful. Our differences should be expected.
I love the Mark Twain quote that opines people who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t. I would say the same is true for good discussion.
It drives me crazy when the only topics of conversation are other people not in the room. Gossip isn’t just talking bad about people, it’s talking about people without them present to represent themselves. Gossip is one step above grunting on the scale of communication evolution. We, with all of our differences, customized set of experiences, and personalized knowledge put a slant on everything we say and think. It’s ok. Everyone does it.
Not acknowledging that is the critical error.
I’ve been in conversations where gossip was alive and kicking. I’ve expressed my disinterest in joining the gossip. And then found myself unable to stop the blurt of information coming out when the questions didn’t stop.
So here’s another tack – There is an art to conversation. It requires curiousity, genuineness, and openness. When you feel yourself unable to think of something interesting to say, or you feel tempted to trot out someone elses’ life for display to shield your own from scrutiny, ask a question. The best conversationalists are people who know how to engage others. Learn about them, their thoughts, their experiences, their lives, their opinions.
That’s it. Just ask a question.
Maybe they’ll ask you one back.