Someone shared a piece of really juicy gossip with me the other day, and I mean really juicy. I was dying to call to my husband and tell him. I even had all the justifications worked out – why it was important he should know, how it validated his perspective, how it affected our professional lives and so on. Finding rationalizations to share negative information is a skill that many of us are very adept at. I was really plotzing to pick up the phone.
But there was one problem – (no, not the moral prohibition against gossip; I told you I had found some justification!) I was in the car with a friend and I thought it would be rude to get on the phone. So I waited – through our hour-long drive, through our dinner out with other friends (yes, I kept my lips sealed) and through our hour-long drive home.
Finally, drained and exhausted, I arrived home. It’s finally my chance to spill the beans, I thought, trying to conjure up the original excitement. I rushed into the house and I discovered something interesting. The power of the “dirt” had faded. I was no longer so excited. It wasn’t as interesting or compelling as I first thought.
What had happened? The “news” hadn’t changed. But the waiting time had dissipated its power. It was no longer “necessary” to share the news. It wasn’t pressing on the tip on my tongue, dying to come out.
It reminded me of a quote that has been attributed to Ben Sira, “Have you heard something? Let it die with you. Be strong; it will not burst you.”
We frequently feel that we have to tell someone a particular piece of information – because it’s so interesting, it’s so important, it’s so compelling (as I said, we’re all very talented in the field of rationalization). We convince ourselves that the psychological torment we will suffer if we keep the information to ourselves is so intolerable that we must share it.
But how often is that really true? What would happen if we gave ourselves permission to relate the gossip but only on condition that we wait one day before doing so? Would we still feel the urgent need to share?
One of my teachers suggested a similar test with respect to food, doughnuts in particular. This spoke to me because I happen to be a big fan of doughnuts! He suggested that if one is trying to limit their doughnut consumption, it is a good idea to buy the doughnut and then wait a day to eat it. By that time, it is no longer as fresh, as fluffy, as moist (I’m getting hungry!) and therefore less appealing. It may even be stale and you are no longer tempted to indulge.
I think that we can apply this to our desire to gossip. Every time we have something we simply must share, let’s impose a 24-hour waiting period. And let’s see if the urgency fades, if the news no longer seems so compelling, if we’ve moved on.
The motivation to speak gossip is very strong. We need to use all the possible stratagems at our disposal to counteract it. I’m happy to report that my experience the other night helped me uncover another one.