“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” – Socrates
Marilyn was an attractive widow with three children who just moved to a barangay. In a few weeks, she was the most talked-about woman. She was too pretty; several men had been seen visiting her; she was a poor housekeeper; her children ran the streets and ate at the neighbor’s. She was lazy and spent most of her time lying on the sofa reading. Such was the conversation among the neighbors.
One morning, Marilyn collapsed at the public market, and the truth soon came out. She was suffering from an incurable disease and could not do her housework. She sent the children away when drugs could not control her pain. “I wanted my children to think of me as always happy,” she said. “I wanted to pass away some time alone so they would never know.”
The men who visited her were her old family doctor, the lawyer who looked after her estate, and her husband’s brother.
Booth Tarkington, author of The Magnificent Ambersons, wrote: “Gossip is never fatal until it is denied. Gossip goes on about every human being alive and about all the dead that are alive enough to be remembered, and yet almost never does any harm until some defender makes a controversy. Gossip’s a nasty thing, but it’s sickly, and if people of good intentions will let it entirely alone, it will die, ninety-nine times out of a hundred.”
Although the town was kind to Marilyn for the remaining months of her life, the gossipers never forage themselves.
In Killosophy, Criss Jami pointed this out: “A rumor is a social cancer; it is difficult to contain and it rots the brains of the masses. However, the real danger is that so many people find rumors enjoyable. That part causes the infection. And in such cases when a rumor is only partially made of truth, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the information may have gone wrong. It is passed on and on until some brave soul questions its validity; that brave soul refuses to bite the apple and let the apple eat him.”
Gossip, the act of spreading news from person to person (especially rumors or private information), is relevant as ever. Among Visayans, it is known as tabi or libak. To most Filipinos, it is plain tsismis, or the current slang chika. The word “gossip” originates from “god-sib” the godparent of one’s child or parent of one’s godchildren (“god-sibling”), referring to a relationship of close friendship. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the usage ofgodsib back as far as 1014.
Gossip is not a new invention. It has been around since time immemorial. “Evolutionary psychologists believe that our preoccupation with the lives of others is a byproduct of a prehistoric brain,” wrote Frank T. McAndrew is a feature syndicated by the Associated Press.
These scientists believe that since “our prehistoric ancestors lived in relatively small groups” that “they knew one another intimately.” McAndrew further wrote: “In order to ward off enemies and survive in their harsh natural environment, our ancestors needed to cooperate with in-group members. But they also recognized that these same in-group members were their main competitors for mates and limited resources.”
In modern times, however, “gossip” has taken a new level. It simply means “spreading of rumor and misinformation, often through excited conversation over scandals.” Mostly, people don’t admit they are involved in gossip. Someone may say, “I don’t mean to talk about her, but…” and what comes next is a litany of untruth facts. The more interesting the gossip, the more likely it is to be untrue.
“Gossip is one of the so-called ‘little’ sins that even Christians are often unable or unwilling to avoid,” said William McElroy. “It is, to be sure, a common sin, but can it truly be called ‘little’? Gossip can destroy reputations, disrupt families, divide neighbors, and cause widespread heartbreak, and all to no purpose except the satisfaction that some find in passing on idle or malicious tales.”
The person who brings those malicious talks is not the only one who does the gossiping. Even the person who listens commits the same mistake. “There cannot be a noise unless there is an ear to hear it,” explained Dr. Charles L. Allen, author of God’s Psychiatry. “A noise is caused by the vibrations of the ear drums. And neither can there be a bit of gossip without an ear to hear. The law holds the receiver of the stolen goods as guilty as the thief.”
So, how should we take gossip? Should we ignore it or listen to it? I am not sure if the story below is true or not, but I can assure you I didn’t make it up. It’s lifted from 1000 Stories You Can Use (Volume 2), which is compiled by a priest named Frank Mihalic:
One day, Homer ran up to the wise man Socrates and whispered, “Socrates, listen to this bit of gossip about your friend.”
Before Homer could go on, Socrates stopped him and said, “Wait. Have you first passed it through the three sieves?” Homer was caught by surprise and so he asked what those three sieves were.
“Now, let’s see whether what you want to tell me passed through the three sieves. The first is truth. Are you sure that what you are going to tell me is true?” Homer replied, “Well, actually, I heard the story from another person.”
“In that case, let’s see if it can the second sieve,” Socrates said. “Is what you are going to say is kind?” Homer said, “Not exactly. In fact, it’s the opposite.”
“Is that so?” Socrates asked. “Now for the final sieve: is it necessary?” Homer replied, “Hardly.”
“Well, if what you want to tell me is neither true nor kind nor necessary, skip it.”
To end, allow me to quote the words of inspirational writer Israelmore Ayivor. “Free your life from the fangs of gossip by not associating yourself with them,” he said. “Anyone who helps you to gossip about someone can also help someone to gossip about you.”