My Dad used to tell me when I was younger, “Don’t do anything today that you wouldn’t want in tomorrow’s headlines.” I can’t tell you how many times I dreaded the idea of my poor decisions on one day being the following day’s top news. Obviously, I am of little consequence in the public eye, but the message left an impact just the same. I later heard a quote by French Philosopher, Jacques Bainville, that echoed my Dad’s advice. Bainville said, “One must want the consequences of what one wants.” In short, we must consider the repercussions of our actions.
I can still see myself sitting in a high school classroom looking back at my friend in the desk behind me before class started. She was confronting me on things she had heard me saying about her to other people. You can imagine my embarrassment by the whole situation. She was completely right. I cannot remember now what I was even telling people. The point though is that I had, in fact, been saying stuff behind her back. I was out of line. It was one of those moments where I had to evaluate my gossipy tendencies. I’m grateful for her confronting me all those years ago, because it made me realize the repercussions of my actions. How fortunate I was to learn at a fairly young age the pain that comes from gossiping. I wish I could say I learned my lesson and never spoke an unkind or false word again about someone behind their back, but it’s taken years to truly weed out the nasty habit.
My first fix was to make sure that when someone told me a secret, I kept it a secret. I have been considered a trust-worthy friend because of my efforts. I was less effective at changing my habits of complaining and backbiting about people who annoyed me. I wasn’t telling secrets of theirs, as much as I was just ranting about their quirks that grated on my nerves.
The workplace was certainly a difficult place to keep my backbiting to a minimum. There are so many different personalities that we are forced to work with in close proximity. I found it difficult not to vent about so-and-so during my lunch break with co-workers whom I trusted. I don’t recall having any enemies at work, but there were plenty of people who I just didn’t jive with. I don’t think we are put here to get along famously with everyone. I know I don’t and I am okay with that. But I think where we get ourselves in trouble is when we start to fuel the fire of our aggravation by spreading it to others in an effort to support our plight.
I was again reminded of how ugly gossip and backbiting could be when I became a Stay-at-Home-Mom. Women love to get around and gab and it became difficult not to indulge in the topics at hand. I learned stuff second hand that I did not want to know about people. Later, I would hear the same story firsthand from the individual and I began to see discrepancies. These experiences had an even greater impact on nipping my involvement in the gossip than that experience back in high school. I realized that the “thrill” of being in the know was in no way worth the consequence of hurting someone. Sure, others may never know I spoke unkind words about them or that I satiated in the gossip about them, but what if they did? What if my unkind words were in tomorrow’s headlines? These experiences made it that much more imperative for me to hold my tongue among chatty women.
I admire my husband on this matter. He has been my example of one whom you can trust. Not only does he keep learned things to himself, but he will stop people who are spreading things second hand. He recently was in a situation where someone was gossiping and his immediate response to the individual was, “Is that really your story to tell?” Oftentimes, I think we find ourselves guilty of wanting to be in the know, when it does us no good. My husband has taught me a healthier and kinder way to be. He has taught me how to show respect for stories that are not ours to tell.
With age, comes experiences and with experiences, comes growth. I’m grateful that I have been able to grow out of the bad habit of gossiping. I still struggle with this vice. I’m not quite sure why that is. Is it the pleasure of hearing other’s imperfections? Of being in the know? Of having a team of support when you are completely annoyed by someone’s behavior? Maybe all of the above? Whatever it is, I’ve grown utterly weary of the consequences of backbiting. All it results in is added negativity, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings.
There are so many actions of mine, mostly from my young adulthood, that I would hate to have in headlines even now. Even worse would be someone putting my shortcomings in their own words and making it a headline. May we all consider the repercussions that come from our daily individual actions and strive to avoid doing them before we risk them becoming tomorrow’s top news. But, more importantly, may we remember that other’s stories are not ours to tell.