There is a poem I've kept on my refrigerator since my early years of marriage. It's yellowed with age, wrinkled, and re-taped many times from accidental tears and household moves. I have known its destruction, division, and poison, first-hand, and marvel at how those that use it cannot see themselves within. Do you know this anonymous poem I speak of:
THE SNAKE THAT POISONS EVERYBODY
It topples governments,
causes heartaches, nightmares,
dispatches innocent people to cry in their pillows.
Even its name hisses.
It's called gossip.
Office gossip. Shop gossip. Party gossip.
It makes headlines and headaches.
Before you repeat a story, ask
Is it True?
Is it fair?
Is it necessary?
Is there really any difference between gossiping and bullying? I don't believe so -- it's just in a more direct form. If you read through each line and apply it to the news, today, almost every bit of it applies to bullying. In one form or another, it's about people trying to control what other people do. Can you think of times when you have either been a part of or listened to someone generating all the pain and suffering that you can see within that poem? Do you listen, attentively, adding your own tidbits, or do you stop it? Do you not stop it, because you don't know what to say?
Phrases You Can Use to Stop a Gossip
There are many ways you can stop a gossip, if you really want to -- and, if you don't, what does that say about you? Gossip is harmful. Period. Someone is being made fun of, being kept out of a group of friends, being shunned, LIED about, to make someone (the gossip) feel superior, either because they feel inferior or are jealous of their victim. It's what children do, but it's far more dangerous when done by adults who should know better. Unfortunately, gossip is learned at the parents' knees. If that's what they do, that's what the children will do. If you spend all your time making fun of other people and spreading rumors, that's what your children will do within their circle. And, it can be stopped with just a few phrases. (Of course, if you do stop a gossip, you may find yourself with fewer people in your life -- but, they will be quality people who care about each other.) So, here you go:
Gossip: "I know everyone thinks so-and-so is wonderful, but let me fill you in on...." (or, use your own phrase.)
Response 1: "Oh, dear, I can only imagine what you say about me!"
Response 2: "I didn't realize you had disliked them, so much."
Response 3: "Ooooh, I'll have to warn my friends about you, sweetie! I'm almost afraid to leave the room. Haha."
Response 4: "I'm so sorry if you're having a problem with them; but, we get along fine."
Response 5: "Please don't tell me that. I share so many activities with them, I don't want to know anything that's going to color that relationship. Unless it has a direct effect on me and my family, I really don't need to know it. So, let's talk about something else."
As you can see, the responses get a little stronger. Some people need to be told, straight out, that you won't tolerate gossip. And, quite frankly, if someone can't prove with facts what they're saying about someone else, it's just conjecture and assumptions that end up doing more harm than good.
Gossip Divides Families and Causes Pain for Generations
Unfortunately, the most long-term suffering occurs within families when there is a gossip who find allies willing to ostracize someone because of their own insecurities and jealousy. Taking sides, without knowing the facts, means you are willing to destroy all the generational relationships to satisfy one individual's need to feel superior.
It isn't that bad things don't happen within families, they do. But, when you have someone who is always finding fault with others, cannot hear something nice being said about someone else without making sure you know all their dark secrets, and becomes furious when they find out you've spent any time with people they know, you should be very wary of this person. They are usually run by their jealousies, incapable of sharing friends or family – and, they are gossips. They will say anything to keep you away and out of the family.
Before long, the gossip has others avoiding you, believing their poison, and taking sides. Because of this gossip-created distance, the family drifts apart. Generations of siblings, cousins, and extended family members miss out on the opportunity to get to know each other because no one had the courage to stop the gossip. No one ever asks for proof or talks to the victim to find out their story. It becomes second nature within the family or the group to use the victim as a scapegoat for all that is bad until the next generation has nothing to do with the victim, doesn't understand why, but yet continues to follow the tribal thinking of the gossip. If you would take but a moment to think about it, the reason the gossip doesn't want you to get together with their friends without them present is because they have said things that were untrue and they don't want you to find out. They have to keep you apart.
[Just an aside: Did you know that there were 141 proscriptions against gossip in the Bible? That's true. There are only a few against fornication, adultery, stealing, and murder – but, apparently, gossip is so dangerous to the relationships of people that there are 141 (one-hundred-forty-one) verses dedicated to warning Christians against the viciousness of gossip and the pain that they inflict when they engage in it. Why is that? And, can you call yourself a Christian, if you do engage in gossip?]
Gossips Are Bullies, Plain and Simple
In my opinion, gossip is a far more vicious form of bullying than the one-on-one physical bullying. There are many articles devoted to discussing online bullying that we should all familiarize ourselves with to protect our young children, today. And, there are so many ways bullies try to exert their power by shouting, demeaning, making fun of, getting right into a person's face, preventing their movement by either forcing them up against the wall or holding them down by their shoulders with their upper arms. I'm sure there are many other forms that I have missed, but I know that you could share.
Gossip is far more insidious. It is someone's attempt to separate friends and family because they have a problem and they want people to take their side. Children don't know any better. But, adults who engage in gossip create far more damage and, more often than not, their gossip is filled with lies or assumptions that have no basis in fact. Many gossips have volatile tempers that they use to frighten people from calling them on their behavior. But, the end result is the same: a family division that can go on for years, separating the generations from getting to know each other and building a strong support system, just because one person was a gossip, trying to control the people around them. Don't let them do that to your family.
The Way to Stop a Bully Is to Confront Them
It is up to each and every one of us to prevent gossip from getting any further by stopping them in their tracks and not letting them share their latest bit of news. There are always signs that they're about to share something unkind or just plain wrong. Each gossip has a different approach that you know only too well. But, you can break the chain. It can be done – dammit, it should be done
The old childhood chant, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me," is an out and out lie that allows bullying psychological abuse to spread its poison into the next generation. Names will always hurt you because they go deep down to a place that colors your own feelings about yourself for the rest of your life, especially, if no one stands up for you. It will never matter how many times people tell you it's not true, you won't believe them. But the most dangerous end result of gossip is that it will color your relationships for the rest of your life, and no one should be given that kind of power.
Are gossips any different from bullies? No, they're worse. Bullies eventually leave your life and move on; gossips suck out your life and spread their venom, forever. Forgive me for going on so long, but it is a subject that has been near and dear to my heart my entire life. How one person can be given so much destructive power within a family is beyond me; yet, it happens. I hope you can build enough strength within yourself to stop the gossiping bully the minute they try to bring you down to their level. After all, if they're telling you about them; they're telling them about you.