Gossip vs. Intentional Conversation
The other day I was having a conversation with a girlfriend of mine about the difference between gossip and having an intentional conversation with a trusted friend while seeking feedback about an issue with a third party. This is what we discovered.
Gossip lacks integrity. If we look close enough we can uncover a deeper desire lying below the surface of gossip. When we look back at the times we engaged in gossip we discovered two aspects that seemed to surface the most:
1. A desire to connect with the person with which we are gossiping. When I was young, I learned that gossip was a very easy and quick way to make friends. When I would meet a couple of girls and when one would leave the room I would make some smart and witty comment about her to the other girl causing her to laugh and warm up to me. Even though I didn’t quite understand it and the reward seemed something like connection, there was always something inside that didn’t feel right about it. Often times, I really liked the person of topic. And, many times I would feel defensive of the people others were gossiping about. It wasn’t until I felt the sting of being the topic of gossip that I started to recognize it as something that was harmful and that I no longer wanted to engage in.
If we are able to identify the desire to connect as the underlying intention of that engagement we are able to make the choice by asking ourselves the question, “how can I—with integrity—connect with this person in a deep and personal way that isn’t at the cost of another?” What I noticed was that curiosity began to take the place of gossip. I wanted to know more about the person to which I was seeking to connect: Where did they come from? What is their family like? What’s their story? How do they see the world? I love hearing people’s stories and getting to know them on this level. People are so fascinating and have amazing stories to tell; it is just a matter of allowing the space between us to open up, so they can be heard. By doing that we allow a deeper level of intimacy to take the place of a superficial one.
2. Projecting parts of ourselves on to others. Chances are if we are judging it in another person, we most likely have it too. If we dig deep enough we can probably find that the judgments we hold of those people could also be said about us in one form or another. Maybe it’s time to own those things instead of hanging them on someone else?
If you are anything like me, you might be saying, “but sometimes I need to talk it out with a third party”. I take my time and process things. I want to know my role and get my bearings straight before engaging with someone about a disagreement we have had. This is when intentional conversation comes into play.
Intentional conversation has a very specific goal, which is to increase our level of awareness and understanding of ourselves through honest and open conversation with another. For example, say I get into a fight with friend A. If I talk to friend B about it does that mean I am gossiping? To determine that, the first question should be, what is the intention behind having the conversation?
–If the intention is to put friend A down or get friend B on “our side”, then yes, it is gossip.
–If our intention is for friend B to give us some feedback that might expand our self-awareness or level of understanding as a neutral party, then it would fall under intentional conversation.
Here are some check-points to make sure the conversation stays intentional and with integrity:
- When all is said and done and we are back to “skipping down the street holding hands” with friend A, will we feel OK about saying what we said to friend B? Don’t say anything that will cause regret.
- Choose friend B wisely. If we agree that the goal of having a conversation about friend A is to increase our level of awareness and self-knowledge, then friend B needs to be someone whom we trust and know is not afraid to call us on our shit. Friend B is very logical and able to gently tell us when we need to re-evaluate our perspective/opinion/stance or help us find perspective and brainstorm an approach that will be beneficial to our relationship with friend A.
- Choosing someone who is also friends with friend A and cares about them will ensure the perspective stays neutral and that the result is beneficial to both parties.
Whatever the case, in order to maintain integrity in a conversation and not fall victim to gossip’s trap the practice is to keep coming back to the intention of the conversation. Can we find a different way to connect with our object of affection? Will we feel OK about what we have said after the conversation is over? Keep coming back to the intention of how you want to engage with this person and follow that.
May we have clear and loving thoughts,
clear and loving communication,
clear and loving intentions.
When you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
We are One.