Gossip’s grip

Recovery from the Burn Book: The addiction to gossip can no longer prevail

 The halls of the high school are littered with pages from Regina George’s Burn Book. The bell rings, class doors open, pouring students into the hallway.

They bend down, pick up the pages…and explode. The cat-fight of the century breaks out. Shouting, cussing, shoving, punching and crying fill the hallway. So what are on these seemingly harmless pages that have the whole student body freaking out? That’s an easy one: gossip.

This scene from the 2004 film Mean Girls shows audiences all over the world what happens when gossip goes too far. Gossip is the ultimate mean girl’s (or boy’s) weapon of choice. But wait…gossip isn’t just a weapon for a mean person wanting to bring someone else down. People may think it’s no big deal. That gossip is just words, but it causes real damage.

“You know the saying, ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’?” the  Rev. Dan Bergstrom said. “But words do hurt. They hurt very deeply. So if we spread gossip about others that may not be accurate, we have the potential to do real harm to them.”

Rather the question is not IF people gossip, but how they can recognize when they’re doing it and how they can stop. Whether gossip is an occasional lapse or an actual addiction, which psychologists claim it can be, trying to stop before it ruins lives, or at least, before a huge fight breaks out in the hallways of Minnehaha Academy seems like a rational idea.

First step to recovery

Know what the problem is.  Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines gossip as “idle talk or rumor especially about the personal or private affairs of others.”  By definition, gossip is something that can just be something to do because you’re bored.

What is gossip and what isn’t? Rosalind Wiseman, in her New York Times bestseller Queen Bees and Wannabes (the inspiration for the Mean Girls screen play by Tina Fey) gives us the distinction between gossip and venting.

“For example, you get really mad at another girl and then tell another friend what happened and how you’re feeling about it. That’s venting,” writes Wiseman. “Your friend takes that information and tells other people to stir up drama and make people not like the girl. That’s gossiping.”

Psychology teacher Julie Johnson believes the distinction between gossip and venting is all based on fact versus exploiting.

“If it [the conversation] was factual, like ‘this happened today, and I didn’t feel great about it and I’m hurt and angry’ vs. ‘what’s their problem? They’re so awful and mean,’ then it’s truly venting,” said Johnson. “Talking about something that factually happened to you is different than reaming on someone else.”

Another misunderstanding is whether it’s gossip you’re spreading or just news.

“My understanding is that news is substantiated, it’s verified,” Bergstrom said. “For example, if my children ever were to go to a dentist, and I heard that the dentist was not very competent., that might be gossip. What I should do is verify. What is the credibility of this dentist? Are they professional? Are they good? If not, then yeah; pass that information along to verify it because you’re trying to eliminate future harm. But if it’s just a generic, negative message about somebody, then why would you want to perpetuate that?”

The first thing a journalist asks themselves before they start in on an article is “does the public need to know?”

This question is not only a journalist’s best friend, but should also be a gossiper’s best conviction. Does this information benefit the public, like knowing whether someone is a good dentist? Or does it just hurt the target of gossip while helping no one?

Second step to recovery 

Take a look in the mirror. Ask yourself, do you judge others by gossiping about them?

“I’d say we all gossip in one way or another,” said junior Tommy Ostrem.

Just remember when you point your index finger, you have three pointing back at you. Sometimes you may think someone else has a gossip problem, when really it’s you.

Before you start accusing someone else of something, step back and think if you do it too. Matthew 7:5 says “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Don’t be a hypocrite, own what you say and do.

Third step to recovery

Realize why people do it. It is generally agreed inside the Minnehaha community that gossip is bad to spread and/or listen to and yet almost all of those who said that, admitted that they still gossiped. Why do people gossip even though they know it’s wrong?

“Mainly, it’s a conversation starter because people like to know things,” sophomore Caroline Pellegrin said. “ I also feel like gossip empowers other people, they think they’re better than someone else because they have something bad to say about someone else.”

But gossip seems to have an informative, social aspect to it as well.

“When your friends gossip, you want to, too, because you don’t want to be left out,” said Ostrem. “Also, it’s interesting to know about people and what’s going on in their life.”

A casual interest, however innocent it may start out as, can quickly turn into a full-out addiction to gossip.

“Gossip can have some addictive repercussions in our brains, just like other addictions such as drugs, alcohol, video games, food issues, etc.,” said Johnson. “Literally in your brain, gossip addiction acts similar to, say drug addiction, because sometimes gossip can produce temporary feelings of self-worth, importance or satisfaction and your brain produces a kind of high, like; ‘oh that feels good,’ like ‘I feel good about myself, because I just shot someone else down,’ or ‘I’m talking about something and it feels like I know so much more than my friends, I know about this and this.’ But you don’t really know if it’s true, you’re just talking. And once that ‘high’ goes away and reality hits again, the gossiper can want to gossip again to feel that same ‘high.’” Like other addictions, just because it may be human nature to do it, doesn’t mean you can’t stop.

The final step to recovery

Work hard to move on. “Focus on good over bad. If you feel the urge to gossip or hear yourself/listen to others gossip, stop and do something more positive and productive with your time,” said Johnson. “With the power of your mind, if you tell yourself you can do something, you can really do it. If you know gossip is a problem for you just think ‘I’m going to try really hard not to do this anymore’ and try focusing on being a more positive friend instead of cutting people down.”

Advice

Whether it’s an addiction or an occasional slip up, gossip is destructive. It can destroy the lives of the gossiper and the person who’s being gossiped about.

It can eat away at foundations of trust in your relationships and leave you standing alone.

So next time you open your mouth to gossip, remember that, as Cady Heron says in Mean Girls, “calling someone fat won’t make you skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter… All you can do in life is try to solve the problem that’s right in front of you.”

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