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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Improving the silence

You know how you have those friends that you can sit with and have nothing to say, and it's fine? No awkwardness, no need to add anything verbal, just being, and enjoying and it's all good. Those are not the friends I am talking about here. Those friends, let them know how much you appreciate them in your life.

Here, I am talking about other people - the people who have to have something to share, who have to be in the know and have something to say, no matter what. These are the people that are often critical or even hurtful of others, sadly, ripping apart those speared by their commentary, whether or not what they say is true. Why? Because they have to have something to share, even if it is not necessarily 100% accurate or true.

Gossip, my friends, is mean. Gossip is, by its very nature, designed to make one feel superior over others, one can probably say those who spread gossip have confidence issues, using these words as a way to make themselves feel better about their own (self-perceived) situation and/or characteristics. Gossip is debilitating for those hit by it, especially if they are young enough to let the mean words get their grip and start festering.

Depending on your reason for being overseas, - though this is definitely true stateside, too - gossip can be a problem. Not just for kids but for adults as well. If you are in a small community, gossip can ruin an experience. At one of our overseas post, there was a horrible gossip mill. As though it were yesterday, I still clearly remember the woman who's job it was to help stamp out gossip telling me that 'everyone had to take their turn.' I probably stared at her, mouth agape for a few seconds before realizing. What?! And do nothing about it? Sure enough, as much as I tried to stay on the outskirts, even I had my own run-in with the mean-spirited ones. Why? I don’t know. New subject matter I guess. Gossip is community killing, shattering what should be a peaceful enjoyable experience, and leaving in its wake sadness, distrust and bad feelings. What good is that?

Our kids are growing up in a day and age where popular television is essentially critical gossip programming, with one show worse than the next. Newspapers, magazines and news sites are full of harsh commentary and critical view points. Where are the good examples of positive interactions? Where are the good role models? Guess you'll have to fill that role yourself.

Gossiping is not just a kid thing. Tweens do it. Teens do it. Adults do it. It’s a habit that can be hard to break. Why do people gossip? I suppose there are a number of reasons: boredom, novelty, cruelty. Does it really matter why? For those who gossip, ask yourself these questions: Why are you speaking of others? Do you feel as though talking about others makes you look more attractive or popular? Does gossiping make you more socially adept or acceptable? Earn you more friends? Does gossiping make you a happier person? Ease your stress? Make you happy? The answer to all of these (in case you were wondering) is a resounding and emphatic ‘No!’ At first, gossip might seem like fun. It can feel like a private little club with you and your friend whispering about another person. But if someone gossips with you, he or she also might gossip about you. And it doesn't feel good to be on the receiving end. Stick with friends who would rather live their own fun lives than talk about someone else's!

For those who don’t do it, good for you. Good for you for understanding how hurtful gossip can be, and having the compassion to not pass on the snippets that you have undoubtedly heard. Good for you for bettering your community by being accepting and inclusive. Good for you for caring about how your words impact others.

There's a spectrum, right? On one end you have asking how a mutual friend is doing. Perhaps she's been ill, or had an accident. Perhaps you heard that she won the lottery and are curious how she's enjoying her new-found wealth. Perhaps she's on a trip around the world. No harm intended, just curiosity. On the other end, you have intentional cruelty like online shaming, cyber bullying and outright lying about another person just to have something to say. Clearly, there is a difference in intent; just as clearly, there is a difference in impact.

Kids hear things every day. They hear about their friends, their peers, their classmates. They hear about family members and about teachers. They hear all sorts of things. Same goes for adults. These snippets they are hearing though, are just that: snippets. Snippets are not the whole story. A snippet is a tiny piece of the big picture, leaving a lot of details. You can’t know – possibly even can’t imagine – the whole story. Sure, sure, there are times when it is better to pass on a message. If you hear of someone wanting to hurt themselves or others, telling a responsible adult is a wise action. But otherwise, if you have something to say about someone else, I ask you to ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it nice? Does you saying it improve upon the silence? If you can answer, honestly, yes, then it is okay to repeat. If not, then try your hardest to keep it to yourself.

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