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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Challenge You to Silence


Over lunch with a group of friends several weeks ago, the topic of conversation turned to a friend who is known for, let’s just say, being blunt.  Loud.  Saying the thing no one would ever dare to say.  Talk, as talk can do, became gossip this particular day.  Tidbits of stories about this girl were shared from one person to another who was at our table.  I became increasingly uncomfortable until I had to pipe up to say I thought the girl was nice.  She is.  She is blunt, I give you that, but she is nice, and I think she has a good heart. 

One of the girls at the table told me I thought everyone was nice.  Well, yes, usually I do, unless they prove me wrong and sometimes even then I know it’s just a temporary state they are in.  Take the woman who cut me off in traffic last week and then flipped me the bird for looking at her exasperatedly.  I was fuming and mumbled all the way home about blankety-blank crazy people, but then I realized I have been that crazy person when I was late, distracted, or just plain irritated at my kids, life or whatever.  Does that mean I’m not nice?  Not all the time, but I do try, and I bet that woman usually tries to be nice too.

I think there is an art to saying nothing that has begun to disappear in our society.  Many people seem to think there is nothing harmful about talking about other people.  I know someone personally whose life was irrevocably altered for the worse by hurtful words.  I won’t share the story, as it’s not mine to share, but I can share my own musings in wondering the point of gossiping. Especially, when I believe most people know on some inner level that the person they are talking about could be hurt by the gossip. 

Why am I standing on my platform today?  Because in my research for my current book, I accidentally stumbled across a site www.belief.net that had a story about gossip on it.  This story made me think about a person I knew whose life had been badly damaged by gossip.  Shortly after that, this wonderful person called me, and I decided then and there to pass on the folktale that to me perfectly captures the danger of gossip.  It’s my cause for the day!

Following is the story:
A nineteenth-century folktale tells about a man who went about town slandering the town's wise man. One day, he went to the wise man's home and asked for forgiveness. The wise man, realizing that this man had not internalized the gravity of his transgressions, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, and scatter the feathers to the wind. After he had done so, he should then return to the wise man's house.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the man was happy to be let off with so easy a penance. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers, and returned to the house.
"Am I now forgiven?" he asked.
"Just one more thing," the wise man said. "Go now and gather up all the feathers."
"But that's impossible. The wind has already scattered them."
"Precisely," he answered. "And though you may truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak."

Today, I challenge you to refrain from any gossip!  If you like this idea you can spread it by pinning this, facebooking the challenge, or twittering it.

Do you know someone who has been hurt by gossip?

Have a great day!

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem

21 comments:

  1. Wow, Julie, great post. This is something I think we all need to think about. Well, at least I do. It is so easy to get caught up in a conversation and our interest is perked when you hear words like "Did you hear what so and so said or did or . . ." So easy to get sucked in. I do try to refrain but not always successful. And, I have heard conversations and thought the person being mentioned would be crushed if they could hear what was being said. Maybe we all need to adopt "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

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  2. Julie, I love and hate this post at the same time. Love it because it is wise and so very true. Hate it because I'm guilty. The story of the wise man and the gossiper leaves an impression--one that's hard to forget. Great post. :)

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  3. Jane,
    I like the 'say something nice or not at all' attitude'!

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  4. Andris,
    I'm glad my post left an impression! Thanks for reading it!

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  5. Julie,

    What a great blog. I love the story of the feather pillow. What a great visual.

    I've been accused of "giving everyone the benefit of the doubt" by past co-workers and a few friends. It's usually said in an affectionate way, even though I think it still might be an annoying trait at times.

    I've also been catty in the past & hurt someone I love & respect. I can't tell you how horrible I felt, or how grateful I was to be forgiven. And because of my friend's graciousness, I feel I should pay it forward and be forgiving of others who might say something that hurts my feelings without first thinking it through.

    I really try to live by the golden rule of treating others like I want to be treated. It's something we are taught in preschool, but it's a hard lesson to learn. :)

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    1. LOL. Are you talking about me, Samantha? ;) I'm pretty sure I've said something like that to you in the past.

      You see the best in others and you do give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I like to think that I do too, until I get burned or until I learn the person I've been dealing with isn't trustworthy, etc. Then the benefit of the doubt is gone for me. Yes - everyone can and will make mistakes and I can forgive almost anything... but not everyone out there is a good or a decent person. And that whole - fool me once, shame on you/fool me twice, shame on me - thing rings true to me. Once I know someone isn't decent or isn't trustworthy, they no longer get the benefit of the doubt.

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    2. LOL. Well, you may have said that about me once or twice, Ava , but I heard it a lot from my co-workers when I worked in psych. ;)

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    3. Samantha,
      You are wonderful at giving everyone the benefit of the doubt!

      And Ava, I agree there is a difference between giving people the benefit of the doubt and then just being plain blind about who someone truly is.

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    4. I take into account a person's track record, too. If the person has been kind to me fifty times and does something wrong once and is sorry, I'll still give him or her a chance. If I'm wronged from the start, I'm much less likely to ever think positively about him or her, but some people have won me over even after making a horrible first impression. My hubby was one of those people. ;D

      I have a person at work I will never trust now, but I still have to interact with my co-worker. I'm polite & professional, but I'll never have that person's back again.

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  6. Julie, this is a great blog, and a great subject. It is sooooo easy to get caught up in the gossip that is constantly floating about. What's hard, sometimes, is taking a stand against it as you've done. I know I've listened to my fair share of gossip in the past, and participated in the spread of it, but that's not the person I strive to be. Thanks for shedding some light on it with that story.

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    1. Taking a stand is hard! Ultimately, you don't want to be the person everyone is annoyed with for always chiding them, but I'd rather run the risk than sit and listen to someone get bashed.

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  7. Julie ~ I am pretty much an open book as far as my thoughts and feelings go. People generally don't wonder what I'm thinking, it's quite obvious. I may not live by the "if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all" mantra most of the time - but gossiping isn't necessary as anyone who knows me knows that I'm upfront and honest if something is bothering me. So you won't find out from person X that I said blankety, blank, blank - you'll hear it straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

    And, honestly, I wish there was more open communication. I think gossiping comes from people who feel a certain way but don't want to express themselves publicly for whatever reason. And whether or not you talk out your feelings with others (in the form of gossip) or bottle them up - if you aren't honest about what's going on that is bothering you, the issue isn't going to disappear.

    So I advocate for honesty, (I also advocate for standing up for yourself, but that's a whole other topic.)

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    1. Me too, completely, and I think you are right about gossiping steaming largely from people being afraid to say what they really think.

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  8. Oh, boy! Guilty as charged. What a great post, Julie. I feel properly chastised. I have trouble keeping my thoughts to myself sometimes, though it's usually a result of being repeatedly wronged by someone. I love the rule of Thumper, and I try my best to live by it, but, like Ava, I also live by the "Fool me once..." mantra too. I would never spread vicious rumors about someone, but I'll definitely stand up for myself and for others if I/they have been wronged.

    But I do have a friend who is "the blunt one." She says the most heinous things, but I love her for it. She provides the most entertainment at Ladies Night :) (And I would tell her that to her face! lol)

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    1. My friend too! She's blunt but completely honest.

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  9. Great post, Julie. I've been on both the giving and receiving end of gossip before I'm sure. But one particular time changed my life completely. Becoming pregnant at sixteen caused quite a controversy in my neck of the woods and you have to think this was twenty years ago when pregnant teens weren't quite as common as it is now. Friends turned away from me, family changed their attitude toward me, and for the most part I haven't let anyone close to me since then until the last six years or so. The gossip about me around town was horrid and especially hurtful to a teenage girl. It wasn't pretty. But it made me who I am now. So there are no regrets here.

    I worked in a ballet shop for well over six years until last year and it's run by mostly girls. Young girls are the worst I think. It becomes a one up thing sadly.

    I am certain that I've made a few bad remarks about someone before in my past but I've always been pretty honest with people. Up until the last few years I've kept to myself and freely admit that I don't like people and they don't like me much. But I've come out of my shell over the last few years and things are changing.

    I've never been afraid to stick up for someone that I care about and once you're in my court, then I am as loyal as they come. It takes a lot to tick me off though. But once you do, that's it. I'm done with that person. They can consider themselves erased from my life. And they'll know it. I don't have time for people who don't enrich my life and make me a better person. Life is too short to waste on people who make you feel bad about yourself.

    So glad you wrote this post, Julie. It's a great topic, and one that isn't talked about often enough.

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    1. Suzie,

      You make a good point that gossip can also make you into who you are. Some people, like you, are strong, and can overcome others' petty attitudes, but for some people who wear their feeling as a layer of clothing, overcoming can be much harder and gossip can sometimes have devastating consequences.

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  10. I love this, Julie. It is so important for us to be reminded from time to time that our words DO have weight, and they can hurt. I too fall into the trap of gossip from time to time, and I need to be more aware of it. Holding my tongue: harder than it looks!

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    1. Words of praise and compliments have just as much weight! Maybe we should have a compliment ten people day or something of that nature.

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  11. A fabulous post. Great food for thought. I have been guilty of gossiping and I have been working on not. Which is hard. However, in high school I was the receiving end of gossip and I tended to where my heart on my sleeve. I still do, but I try to manage about gossip.

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  12. Melody,

    We all try to manage, don't we? As long as you're trying you're doing the right thing!

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