There is a difference between talking about other people and talking against other people. When we talk against other people,
we enter into the arena of harmful or malicious gossip. One example might be, "The only reason Dr. Opportunist spoke up was
to get on the boss's good side. What an apple polisher."
Talking against others distances the speakers from those they are talking about rather than bringing them closer together.
It may needlessly separate good friends. An example might be, "Did you hear what Dr. Harm said about you to Dr. Twist?" It
may also lessen or destroy the good influence another may have by exposing his or her shortcomings. For example, "Don't trust
Dr. Speak. He can't keep his mouth shut."
When we gossip against someone, we hurt at least three individuals: 1) the person we're talking about, 2) the person we're
talking to and 3) ourselves. The same is true if we listen and react to harmful gossip. Harmful gossip can be compared to
mud thrown on a clean wall. It may not stick, but it always leaves a dirty mark.
Gossiping in a harmful way demonstrates a lack of empathy and compassion. The veterinary medical ethical code encompasses
the principle that we will treat our patients with compassion. Shouldn't we treat our colleagues and employees the same way?
To paraphrase Hippocrates, as with our treatment, our speech should do no harm. Malicious gossip against a person's reputation
may be likened to murder. In the long term, to murder a person's name by slander is akin to murdering the person. "The tongue
of the slanderer is brother to the dagger of the assassin," theologian Tryon Edwards stated.
What might be some motives that prompt us to talk about others, even our closest friends? Why is it that we are quicker to
criticize than commend? Why do we at times emphasize the bad and overlook the good? Why do we find it difficult to keep secrets
that we have pledged to keep in confidence? Please consider the following motives:
1. Sometimes our motive might be to gain personal recognition. When we have juicy information that others do not have, for an
instant, we are in the limelight. Gossip can generate an immediate and satisfying sense of power.
2. Another reason we might share negative gossip is to generate a close alliance against a third party. We may be telling our
version of a story to justify our position. If our confidants respond in the desired way, the alliance may grow to involve
others, and thus, gossip may become self-sustaining.
3. We might spread or create negative gossip because of boredom. The chance for scandalous conversation can often be measured
in proportion to the deficiency of other topics of conversation. A rhyme by Ella Wheeler Wilcox states, "We flatter those
we scarcely know, we please the fleeting guest. And deal many a thoughtless blow to those who love us best."
4. Sometimes negative gossip is an attempt to be humorous. Who among us hasn't laughed at another person's misfortune?
5. Sometimes gossip takes the form of criticism or judgment that is premature because we don't know all the facts. The consequences
of such gossip are highlighted in the following aphorism: "I shot an error into the air. It fell upon a ready ear somewhere.
And though I've often tried to retract, some still call my error fact."
6. Sometimes gossip takes the form of criticism to boost one's self-esteem. But we must remember, to speak ill of others is a
self-centered way of praising ourselves.
7. Sometimes gossip starts harmlessly, but its nature shifts because of miscommunication or misinterpretation. Many may recall
participating in a children's game where all players gather in a circle to whisper a sentence into the adjacent person's ear,
who in turn does the same, until the sentence passes full circle. Then the beginning and ending versions are compared. Because
of miscommunication and misinterpretation, the sentences are rarely the same. Although many of us have played the game, how
many of us apply its lesson?