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Confessions of a Former Gossip



“I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody.”   –– Benjamin Franklin

So, my name is EmilyCC, and I am a recovering gossip.

Several years ago, I realized that most of my conversations were about other people. I often felt bad at the end of a night of hanging out with friends because I had said things and heard things that I wouldn’t want certain people to know about.

At first, it was fun. It got me immediate friends (I’m still rather discouraged that I made friends so much faster at someone else’s expense rather than doggedly building a relationship built on trust and experience. Phbt…what fun is that?!). Everything that was gossiped about, I rationalized, was either general knowledge or not that bad. But, I didn’t like the way I felt, and I realized the people I most admired were people who somehow made it through entire conversations without saying a bad thing about anyone.

But, the biggest reason that I decided to stop was when I saw what rumors did to hurt my family.

Several years ago, my parents divorced. It surprised a lot of people; they’d been married 26 years. People talked, and rumors began. Most of my family was pretty oblivious to this. As the oldest of the kids, I thought I could protect my siblings and tried to make sure they didn’t hear those rumors. About a year ago, several of us discovered that we all, separately, had discovered the rumors and tried to keep them secret from the other silbings.

These rumors circulated near and far (beyond stake boundaries, across the country, even—who knew we were so popular?). And, the effects of them are still felt. Just last year, another completely innocent family member was hurt by them.

And, therein lies the rub, completely innocent people—children, parents, people who didn’t participate in the alleged incidents have been hurt.

I decided that it doesn’t matter if rumors are true or not. They’re just as damaging.

So, when I moved to a new ward, I vowed to stop.

After I made this resolution, it was easy enough to follow. I moved wards every one to two years. I can keep my big mouth shut for that long.

But, now, I’ve been in a ward that I don’t plan on leaving. I get comfortable in my friendships, and lately, I have to really force myself to remember my ongoing resolution. It’s so easy to slip up. In the moment, it feels more comfortable to dive right in: “Guess what I know!?” Such a quick conversation starter…

This has also been compounded by being in a Church presidency. As many of us have learned, when in a Primary/Relief Society/Young Women’s presidency, we sometimes have to discuss sensitive information.

My husband and I initially shared information we knew, feeling like it was helpful to have a Primary/bishopric discussion. We reasoned that we were better informed because of it. This may work for some couples, but we don’t do it anymore. For us, it didn’t feel right. And, really, why would I (or he) want to hear more sad stories? There was no pleasure in them.

The rules I’ve made for myself now are simple; I watch what I say, and I never say anything that I would be upset if the person I’m talking about heard. And, I’m certainly not always perfect, but I’m miles from where I was.

Still, this is a problem I’ve seen in the Church, firsthand. Sometimes, we have a hard time separating gossip and “necessary sensitive information” in our leadership roles. Sometimes, I think, “She’s such a good friend, I just want to mention to her…”

Yet, while the Church leaders often cautious us about gossip, I’m always a little frusterated at a lack of definition (someone sent home from a mission, another’s marital problems, what about someone’s annoying kid?) and a lack of concrete discussion about how to curb the problem.

So, what do you define as gossip? What do you do to stop it? Do you tell someone who’s life is making the rounds in certain circles (I actually haven’t been brave enough to do this, but I’m still grateful to my dear friend who did tell me about my family’s rumors when no one else would)?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Caroline says:

    Interesting post, Emily. I myself no doubt talk more about other people than I should. Not usually in a mean-spirited way, but sometimes in a ‘i’m worried’ kind of way. Or, ‘isn’t it great that…’ kind of way. Does that count as gossip? (probably.)

    I like it when my husband gives me little insights into the personalities of bishopric members by telling me anecdotes about them or when he tells me that someone is dealing with something that’s common knowledge (Mike is extremely tight-lipped). It actually usually helps me feel connected to others to know that they have problems, just like I do, and we’re all crashing around doing the best we can but failing half the time.

    I do wonder about church presidencies and the gossip problem. I facetiously call Mike’s bishopric meetings his gossip sessions. I’m sure what goes on there is not mean-spirited, but from the little I do know, they sure seem to spend a lot of time talking about the nitty gritty details of other people’s troubled lives.

  2. elizabeth-w says:

    This post is timely. I was put into a Primary presidency a month ago, and have emailed my President about this very thing. When she asks about people for potential callings, I have to figure out what is Spirit-driven, versus my own biases about people, for good or ill. I told her I wasn’t sure what to do about that. She felt that it was fair to share things in confidence (vs in pres. meetings) and to give it the opening of “I feel this way from a spiritual confirmation” or “this is my personal bias”.
    As a clinical social worker, I am bound by confidentiality to keep private things private. Sometimes when I’m ‘off the clock’ I have been known to talk about whoever I legally can (my sister, my SIL), but most of the time, I would like to think I’m tight-lipped about what I may know about people. If anything, I’m guilty of hearing stuff, but not telling someone to stop gossiping. I think I do a decent job of not passing stuff on, though.
    The other day I was VTing, and my partner said “Well, there are 4 families in the ward right now who have homes in foreclosure.” I said something to the fact that that was something I didn’t want to know about. She seemed to backpedal, saying something about it being common knowledge.
    Maybe that is something some people tell their ward family, but I prefer to keep that sort of info a little closer to the vest.
    Not to derail your post, but I would love to hear what others have done when in presidency capacities.

  3. FoxyJ says:

    I also just got called to a Primary Presidency, and it is hard because we are supposed to discuss the needs of the kids and their families. I try to make sure I’m not talking about stuff just to make myself feel better or to have fun. I’ve also realized that we have to stay focused on behavior rather than assigning judgement (ie not discussing kids as “problems” or “inactive”, but talking instead about things like “he is acting up in class” or “they haven’t attended for two weeks”). I’ve noticed a difference when I talk about people’s actions rather than focusing on why they are wrong or how I can change them.

    I’m also guilty of gossip because I’m terribly curious about what’s going on in other people’s lives. I always have been–it’s one of my weaknesses 🙂

  4. ESO says:

    Kudos for making and working on such a worthy goal. I was once in a branch that had a very family feel to it, and several extended families, and lots of locals who went way back. It was a hornet’s nest of gossip. I am sure people there would have hated to have been confronted with that, but that was the truth.

    I once left RS with a fussy child and as I stood in the hall, I could hear the High Priests Group which the BP was in, apparently discussing branch issues. They just happened to be discussing my family! I had never thought of my family as a branch issue, and indeed, the BP was passing on info that was downright wrong. It really hurt. I think it is VERY common in the church to “share information” in official meetings when what we are actually doing is gossiping (and probably very often not even getting the details right).

    I do try, however, to pass on good or positive info. For example, I have a friend who is rather negative and judgmental, and when I heard her talking about a certain sister in a not nice way, I was able to shed some light on the sister’s past experiences which made her a much more sympathetic character (it happened to be info she had shared in a talk, so I felt that she was comfortable with the unit knowing that about her). I know this is probably a slippery slope, but I try REALLY hard to keep it positive.

    Also, I ALWAYS try to remember that what I am hearing may very well not be true.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    Caroline, I’m still quite guilty of slip-ups. Sigh… but doing this has helped me to define gossip. If it’s being said with malicious intent (“That woman totally bugs me; I’ve heard she and her husband are on the verge of divorce.”) or even just as a way to start a conversation (“Hey, did you hear about that missionary who got sent home?”), I try to stear clear. But, I do think “I’m worried” is a legitimate reason to bring something up, and when I find it necessary, I try to look at my motives before saying anything.

    And, I like your point about Mike’s bishopric meetings. I wanted to make sure this post didn’t focus on Mormon women as the problem; I think the men do this, too, often, under the guise of being leaders of a ward.

    Elizabeth-W, sounds like you have the right idea about how to handle things in your presidency. I’ve found it easier in my professional life to not gossip (um, maybe because I’d get fired in a heartbeat). But, perhaps, because of the training around? Maybe that would be helpful?

    FoxyJ, Primary is tough, isn’t it? Gossip has always been a weakness of mine, too!

    ESO, I’m sorry to hear about your branch experience! Did they ever know you had overheard them? One thing I have found with limiting gossip is that I’m much more likely to try and put a positive spin on things–thanks for making that important point!

  6. anon says:

    What a wonderful goal to set!

    I really don’t care to know people’s dirty laundry, however I like to know enough to avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. For example, one member told me about some divorces that had occurred with several couples in the ward. I didn’t know about the divorces, although I had been wondering why I hadn’t seen some people in a long time. I very easily could have asked, “How/where is your wife/husband?” This informing member did go into more detail than I really needed to hear(and I told her). I think her relating the sad details crossed the line into gossip.

    One way I have personally found to combat gossip is to tell others about some of the admiral things you have learned about others. This can become easy with practice

  7. Jill says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post and can totally relate. I too have really tried to curtail my gossiping ways. One problem that I have is a close friend who manages to suck me in everytime, no matter how strong my resolve is! Unfortunately gossip sort of defines our relationship, I am not sure if we would have much in common if we took that out. Another unfortunate thing is that she just happens to be the Bishop’s wife. She knows A LOT of info and doesn’t seem to hesitate to pass it on. I hope that I am her only confidante because at least I know that it stops with me. I also hope that the Bishop has the good judgement not to let her in on extremely sensitive matters. It has also made me sad to know that I cannot speak to the Bishop (if the need were to arise) because I fear that he will confide in his wife and then who knows where it will end up.

    About gossiping in presidencies. We know that we are discussing out of love and genuine concern when it does not start to feel titillating. (I have never liked using that word but couldn’t think of a better one to describe it :)!)

  8. Starfoxy says:

    I’ve noticed that when I get in the habit of following celebrity gossip it feels much more comfortable to gossip about people I know.

  9. Jana says:

    Well-intentioned gossip amongst family members hurt my feelings pretty badly a few years ago, so I have some strong negative associations with it. I would’ve far preferred if those family members would have addressed the situation directly instead of talking behind my back about it.

    I don’t like that church leaders feel entitled to discuss the problems of church members, even in the name of ‘concern’ or help, and I’ve found that LDS members seem to carry over these practices even they’re involved in non-church organizations.

  10. Jessawhy says:

    EmilyCC,
    Great topic. My VTeachers were here last week and we talked about this. I am a sucker for an exciting story (good or bad) and that lends itself to gossip.
    My friend/VT defined gossip as anything (good or bad) about someone that she would not want said.
    I liked her definition.
    But yes, we should have AA meetings for gossip. I could use them for sure.
    Only lately have I really started to curb my impulses. I have a new friend who only says nice things about people and when I say something critical, she disagrees. It’s been very refreshing having her to set me straight.
    I think, “How did I get to be this mean snarky person? That’s not me!”

    Thanks again for the post, it’s always a good reminder.

  11. jks says:

    I have the opposite problem most of the time. I never hear about anything….stuff that should be passed along. I hate not knowing anything sometimes!!!
    I am definitely not a gossip. I almost never say anything that I wouldn’t say in the presence of that person.
    My husband gets irritated because whenever he wants to say something negative about someone, I always try to put a positive spin on it (defend anyone) because I don’t like people being criticized. I try to bite my tongue a little more so I am not defending his enemies….I should be on his side.

  12. Natalie says:

    I had a (member) roommate for years who was so sensitive about “gossip” that she refused to tell other people’s information, even if it was good news (like an engagement or a pregnancy.)

    I have a problem the other direction. I’m not a very private person, and I don’t mind if other people know unflattering things about me, as long as they are true. I consider it honesty.

    Therefore, I often don’t realize that I’ve said something I shouldn’t about other people. It’s a problem of thoughtlessness, not malice. I actually appreciate it when people call me on the behavior, so that I can apologize and try to do better.

  13. Vada says:

    I sometimes have a problem with gossip just because I like to know what’s going on in peoples’ lives, and for them to know what’s going on in mine. I think it comes from spending all my time with three small children, and generally even spending church in nursery. When I get the chance to talk to adults I want to know what’s going on. Generally it ends up being with friends, and we stick to our own lives, so it’s not too much of a problem, but I have to watch it a little bit. I never pass on gossip, because I never have a clue what’s going on, but I should be better about not listening to it, which does happen sometimes.

    As far as what I consider gossip: I generally feel free to pass along anything positive about anyone unless I’ve been asked not to (babies, engagements, kids starring in school plays, great new job, whatever). If it’s something that’s negative, or even just neutral, I keep it to myself. The only exception to that is if it’s something I think someone ought to know to help that person, and I think that person wouldn’t mind them knowing but wouldn’t say anything themselves. (An example of this: I knew someone else in our ward with an autistic son was struggling to come to church because they couldn’t get their son to go to primary. I mentioned to the primary president that it might be good to call someone to help him so that his parents could go to their classes and get a little break.)

  14. Alisa says:

    Great goal, Emily! When I was in a RS pres, I was horrified by the kind of information that gets passed around about people in official meetings. I had to attend ward welfare meetings with ten or more people there and hear the bishop share very personal information about families in the ward–information I could do nothing about. I really felt like this was crossing the line of sharing on a “need to know” basis, and I often felt guilty that I knew these things about people when my calling doesn’t allow me to directly remedy the situation.

    Sadly, this has really limited the trust I now have toward visiting teachers and church leaders. I would never tell them anything I have to say that I don’t want half the ward knowing.

  15. ESO says:

    Alisa–same with me. Even when I have very legitimate issues, I just cannot stand the idea of being discussed in ward council, so the Bishop doesn’t get my business.

    No–I never addressed my BP about the false (and unflattering) information he was passing on about me (although I would LOVE to know where it came from)–somehow, I felt guilty for having overheard their discussion. Of course, they should have known that anyone in the hall could hear them. I guess I was lucky to have heard them talking about my family rather than have someone else hear them talking about my family.

  16. Kiri Close says:

    I honestly like to stay informed of everything–World, local, social circles, etc (except from FOX NEWS, of course).

    I do, however, share info with few trusted others (I think Rob&my sisters are the only people who hear everything I hear, then tell them).

    Rumor spreading & verbal slandering of another, however, is not my thing. And neither is bringing up severely sensitive info in front of a bunch of people to form ‘in the know’ groups vs. ‘those outta the loop’. Sadly, though, LDS are into this kind of low, animal herd mentality.

    I must admit that I do have a handful of close/close enough friends (LDS and non) that I confide many sensitive things in. And when asked about a specific situation, I do speak my brutall honest opinion.

    I also never appreciate really sensitive issues brought up at ward council–HATE this when it happens, because for some reason ward leaderships assume that this gossip is okay while it’s out in the open & discussed amongst ward leaders (& may I add, there have always been added attacks, snickers, & teasing alongside)–pretty disgusting. I really do try to quell it, but it’s hard when the Bishop or Relief Society Pres, or other ward leaders themselves bring sensitive stuff up, or egg it on more (I witnessed a lot of that in our last ward we attended in Boston). This becomes an attack, targeting on persons at hand for such discussions that should not exist in that setting in the first place. If our wards/branches only knew what we discuss there!

  17. Bookslinger says:

    Years ago, I was eating at a Wendy’s restaurant and two ladies who I didn’t know were sitting at the next table and were talking about their boss. One didn’t like him, and was saying unkind things.

    There weren’t members of the church, as far as I know, but he, their boss, was a member of my ward.

    I kept my mouth shut, but was thinking of witty things to say to them on my way out.

  18. Sue says:

    Gossip is one of the primary ways women bond. I’ve found that since I mostly stopped gossiping a few years ago, it’s been much harder to make new friends. Is that awful to say? Maybe it is. But it’s also true. I do that – deflect the gossip with a nice comment about the persn thing, and unfortunately it comes off as pious sometimes – which is a real turnoff. Makes it hard for people to feel like they can be themselves around you.

  19. bfwebster says:

    I just (try to) follow my mom’s advice: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”

    That’s quite a filter there. And having been through a divorce myself, I know first-hand what gossip can be like. ..bruce..

  20. bfwebster says:

    One more comment, in response to some of the comments above. I have spent the majority of my post-mission adult life (the past 35 years) in callings that involve my attending PEC and/or bishopric meeting. I am hard-pressed to recall any instances of gossip or rumor mongering from those meetings and no instance of false or misleading information being passed along. Instead, I have seen bishop after bishop be very careful in what he says or shares, and whom he shares it with — and that includes the several years when I served as a counselor in the bishopric.

    In my current ward, the bishopric maintains a prayer list for the ward: families and individuals in need our prayers (as a PEC/ward council). Every Sunday in PEC/WC, the first thing that happens is that the bishop asks if anyone needs to be added to the list, removed from the list, or prayed for by name. There is little discussion of the reasons; anyone in the meeting can simply suggest names, and they are added, no questions asked. We then kneel, and whoever is offering the opening prayer asks for blessings for all those on the list, citing by name anyone who was called out as such. My family has been on that list; the bishop’s family is on it now.

    We then get off our knees and figure out what, if anything, we can do to be of service to those people. ..bruce..

  21. Jennifer Ort says:

    great post!

    ‘I just (try to) follow my mom’s advice: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”’

    I love this – maybe I could tattoo it on my forehead! Wait, no tattoos. . . I’ll have to think of another way. . .

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