As a shy extrovert, I’m a bit socially awkward. People are my joy, but initiating conversation with strangers and mere acquaintances takes bravery on my part. It’s been nice living in a part of the world where people are friendly and greet one another easily.
While shy, I am a reader of body language. Sometimes it registers at the gut level, while other times I deliberately look for people’s cues. What I’ve noticed around our little town is a growing number of people not meeting my eye, not greeting me with their usual friendly hellos, and hoping with every lean of their body that I won’t approach for a chat. Don’t worry; the shy person in me reads that and stays away. Nobody deliberately chooses rejection or fake interaction.
I discovered months ago that the town gossip and the ring leader of the local mean girls is a mommy peer who decided I was sub-par. I learned a long time ago that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. But this got to me. My first reaction was to feel superior. My second reaction was pity. Her life must be so sad and empty if she finds purpose in harming or controlling others. It didn’t take long to discover that neither attitude was helpful, so I simply chose to enjoy my life and the genuine people in it. Brene Brown taught me that she’s probably doing her best, so I just let it be.
This “letting go” only lasted a few months.
These days, I’ve increasingly observed formerly kind and cordial people no longer look me in the eye. Gone are their neighborly hellos. Now, they gently turn away when I’m in the vicinity.
I have to ask myself why certain people are pained at the possibility that I might join their cluster of conversation. Well, duh. The gossip.
You know what? It hurts. I have feelings, and my feelings are hurt.
I chose to finally own that and had a good cry that last night.
My husband is a good listener and he believes in me. He was afraid the rumors could be lies about our family. But our family is great! There is no fodder there. So it must be me, right?
I love truth and justice, and I wish I knew what was said to make formerly friendly people avoid me. Surely, I could speak truth into that! If they were gossiping about real traits of mine, maybe owning it would diffuse the feeding frenzy. And if it’s lies, perhaps a dose of truth would counteract things. [Just say it: “Sure, Pollyanna.”]
So after the good cry, and an hour’s escape into a TV show, I started doing what I do:
research and pray.
[Okay, if I’m honest, I spent some time last night imagining how I’d write the evil villain into a future novel. I mean, it’s not smart to mistreat a novelist. They. Will. Write. You. In. But, no. I’m bigger than that. It was entertaining to imagine, though.]
After praying before bed and all morning, here’s what I decided to do:
- Pray for my “enemy,” the likely source of all this.
- Pray for the lovely church in town. It’s is a common denominator in the gossip and the people subtly shunning me. Gossip is a disease that undermines the health of any group, and a common tool of the Enemy of All Things. I can intercede for the health of that church, it’s people, and their friendly pastor.
- Employ my pen. God gave me this pen. I will use it for good. Hence, this post.
What will I do with this pen? A call to action.
Let’s start a movement, you and I. An anti-gossip movement. It’s not just a small town problem. One of my dearest friends is dealing with the same thing, and she lives in the megalopolis we call the East Coast.
If gossip is a disease, let’s combat is like we do a disease.
- PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE
What do we tell our children? WASH YOUR HANDS.
Don’t be attracted by others’ dirt. Don’t spread dirt. Don’t wallow in it.
Wash your hands of gossip. Don’t participate. Don’t use it to hold the attention of listeners. You probably already don’t do that. But how about this:
Wash your hands of impending gossip. You know the look somebody gets when they’re about to launch into somebody’s business. Shut them down. Give them a cue to zip it. And if you can’t think of one, walk away. Don’t feed on that chum.
- USE A PREBIOTIC
Are you familiar with prebiotics? They feed the good microorganisms in your body. They create a hospitable environment for the healthy bacteria we call probiotics.
It’s hard to develop healthy eating habits. If you’re not used to things like leeks, jicama, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and sauerkraut, then it will take some time to introduce these prebiotics into your diet. But if you do so, you’re creating a healthy environment for the probiotics, or the healthy gut bacteria that is key to many aspects of your health.
How does this apply socially? Well, create a healthy environment.
Whatever groups you participate in, be it church, gym, clubs, neighborhoods, etc., let it be known that you won’t feed off of other’s personal lives and you won’t entertain those who do.
Make it socially uncool to do it. It could take some time, but you can influence the environment of any group you’re a part of. Do your part to make it a hospitable environment for good, honest connectedness to happen.
- USE A PROBIOTIC
Probiotics fight the bad microorganisms. They are key to good gut health, which is key to your overall health.
How can you be a social probiotic?
Honor the vault. Brene Brown talks about the vault being the place where a friend can share their intimate details with you and know that their details are safe with you. You won’t share their details with others. You won’t treat them like fish food. You are not a piranha. When your friends know this, you can develop a healthy connection with each other. You can support one another. You can cheer on their successes and genuinely be happy for each other.
Spot the piranhas. You could choose to avoid them. But why not do your community a service and re-educate them? Show them the difference between feeding on others and true connectedness.
You can set boundaries. Tell them what is okay and what is not okay. (I also got that from Brene Brown. I’ve been a Brene Brown junky lately.)
Here are some sample boundaries you can set:
It’s okay to celebrate others’ victories.
It’s okay to share public stories to learn from others’ life journeys.
It’s okay to share details from your own life, good or bad, and to clarify for me whether this is public or private information.
It’s not okay to talk about things a person told you in the vault.
It’s not okay to celebrate others’ hardships.
It’s not okay to tear somebody down to make yourself feel special.
A piranha shares information told them in the vault. A piranha would share your information. Brene Brown says that people who gossip are trying to hotwire a connection with others. Sadly, if you build a common ground of hating the same people, you’ve created a counterfeit connection.
Be aware that gossip has two sources:
- cluelessness. The gossip doesn’t realize they’re about to harm you by spreading your info.
- maliciousness. This is the attempt to achieve social power.
I know I’ve inadvertently spread the clueless kind. For that I am truly sorry. I’ve never done the latter, but I believe the mean girl clique of the local high school grew up to be the mean mommies. It hurts to be their chum, to feed off whatever the ring leader is saying. I am not fish bait and neither are you.
If you know the source, you can fight the bad like a probiotic.
Be a probiotic, not a piranha.