For instance, the advice: If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. I noticed recently that there is a “No Gossip” challenge being done somewhere. (Sorry. I couldn’t find an official link to this “event” but I saw something on the news while I was doing housework.) The report showed some snippets of vlogs in which high school students were sharing their experiences with avoiding the act of gossiping—whether speaking or listening.
I started thinking about myself and how I will occasionally slip into gossiping about others. More often than not I start venting or talking about a situation with a friend that genuinely has me concerned or perhaps I am even expressing my frustration with some of the choices someone else is making. The next thing I know, I am saying, “Oh you aren’t going to believe this . . . then she/he . . .”
Well, I used to do that a lot. Not as much anymore. I try to catch myself before I slip. And now, whenever I do talk about someone else, I step back afterwards and assess the merit of what I did.
But the idea of not having anything nice to say goes beyond gossip. Last year when I was deep in my convalescence, I had some friends who would come over to visit. Never on the same day but one would drop in one week and then a few weeks would go by and another would drop in. It was a lovely thing to have people come and make sure I was okay, even if all we did was sit and watch a dvd. I enjoyed the company and it made the dailyness of my condition more tolerable.
I actually had one person comment on my body and another comment on my home décor. And not in a flattering way. I just off-handed the comments with “I know” or “I agree” and changed the subject but afterwards I thought about the comments. I didn’t ask these people for their thoughts. I didn’t encourage them to give me any advice. I didn’t in any way invite these unkind remarks.
For the record, I obviously have more than two friends and I definitely received more kindness than not. And even from those who felt compelled to tell me what they thought even though I had not asked them for their thoughts, I did receive some kindness.
Still, whatever happened to not saying anything at all? If someone asks you how they look in something and the color or something is not flattering then of course tell the truth but if a person doesn’t ask you can’t just walk up to them and say, “You look fat in that.” Suggesting to someone who doesn’t have a job that it really is time they bought a new car or some new furniture is not at all helpful, unless you have a car and some furniture you are giving away.
I remember when I was working in an office with a young woman who was rather arrogant. Very few people liked her and she was especially rude to me, something upon which others had commented and about which I was trying to find solutions. That others noticed her blatant rudeness was not helpful. In fact, their observations reinforced my experience and made it more tangible. And that didn’t help at all. Had these other people kept their observations to themselves then I would have been less inclined to take it personally, to fall into a feeling of victimization, and I certainly wouldn’t have become as defensive as I almost did.
Almost but not quite. I decided to approach the situation from a different angle. I could have dug my heels in and just written this other person off as arrogant and rude. Instead, I chose to give her compliments, to offer to help. Every day, when I first saw her, I would begin with saying something about her hair, her outfit, or something she had done the day before. Later, if I did not have a crazy day before me, I would seek her out and ask her if there was anything with which I could help her.
It worked. While others in the office continued to complain about her inability to connect with anyone in the office, she began returning my compliments with compliments of her own. A few times she even managed to compliment me before I was able to compliment her. We never became friends, never even went to lunch together. But when I approached her for some work related assistance I no longer got the immediate frown and refusal. Instead, she would listen to my request and respond with openness.
It was a valuable lesson for me.