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My entire life, I have loathed gossiping.
Cackling with my BFFs over something silly or a photo/post is one thing; making intentional, salacious remarks about others behind their back has never been my style. Being sweet to someone’s face and saying rubbish behind their back felt both unkind and unethical in my books.
I am not sure how I started to think this way. In my early 20s when external validation is a big part of your existence, I tried becoming “that person” to fit in and feel connected to my peers. But gossiping never sat well. After you had blathered, there was a sense of emptiness, you know. I didn’t feel any better after gossiping compared to how I felt before it. What was the point?
If a person talks about a third party behind their back…who’s to say they won’t do the same about me when I’m looking? Very early on, I quickly understood that friendships built on gossip and smack about a common “enemy,” versus bonds formed based on shared values, die an irrelevant death. I kept my circle tight.
My mom would often say, “Sweta knows everyone’s secrets, but you will never find out anything. She safeguards them very smartly.” Sometimes, she applauded my loyalty; and other times, it frustrated her.
For instance, many moons ago, one of my cousins broke her engagement and declared that she wanted to marry a different boy. I knew about her boyfriend (The said boy) all along, but I didn’t know she was going to call off her wedding. I was given the impression that she and her boyfriend had broken off their relationship. When my parents asked, “Why didn’t you tell us that you knew that she had a boyfriend?” my response was, “It’s not my story to share.”
They were furious, “The family could have avoided this embarrassment.” Tones got terse. I remember pausing for a few seconds and saying, “If she trusted you, she would have told you. When people don’t tell you their story, you also have to look within and ask yourself the bigger question: where was the trust?” My parents didn’t know how to respond.
Yoga and Ayurveda might have had something to do with my mindset and thinking. In the spiritual world, karma makes a person responsible for their own life, and how they treat other people. Karma is not a moral justice system. Karma is the Sanskrit word for action, and action is what rules our lives. Everything has repercussions. You do good, you sow good seeds for the future; bad deeds (including gossip) will earn you punishment.
Maybe meditation has taught me to build boundaries and practice detachment—out of sight means out of mind in a healthy way. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or am not impacted; it means I care enough to not define or judge a person by their one confession or action. It also means that I focus on not being swayed by what others have to say.
Last week, when our apartment building in NYC caught fire, this cousin was one of the first people to reach out and ask if we were okay. It was a busy day at work, and since the building staff didn’t ask us to evacuate, I continued completing my work and attending virtual meetings. I shared a post on Facebook that the apartment three floors above us was up in flames. But, thankfully, no one was hurt and that we were okay.
The next day when I stepped out for a walk, I ran into a few neighbors from different floors. As a writer and Ayurveda Coach, I can’t help but psychoanalyze people. As a curious storyteller, I am trained to listen first. One person had a meltdown and said that they wanted to move out of the building. They shared their theories on what might have transpired. They tried convincing me why nothing was safe. There were mentally ill people living amongst us. They were scared of my conclusion. Out of habit and practice, my mind didn’t write stories about the anxiety-struck neighbor.
Later that afternoon, I ran into the person who lived next door to the apartment that caught fire. We were in the elevator and there were several women talking about the incident. In excited tones, they complained about how the carpet still reeked of smoke. I could tell that the witness to the fire wanted to say something, but everyone was busy talking over him. I get it; people were frightened and wanted their stories to be heard.
As soon as we got out of the elevator, I introduced myself to the neighbor who had been trying to tell us his version of what transpired on D-Day. It seems he stepped out of his apartment and he could see nothing. Smoke everywhere. He grabbed a few of his belongings and ran to the stairwell. He wanted to be heard—can you imagine being woken up from your sleep because of a fire?
Anyway, we must have chatted for about 15-20 minutes when he said, “Why did the others not leave their apartment? I ran out with my belongings.” I smiled at them, “Everyone handles crises differently. Some people take action; others freeze.” I got a smile in return, “You are so right. I shouldn’t judge.”
Since that day, I have heard a dozen versions of what occurred and led to the fire. I haven’t made judgment about people based on what they spoke in their vulnerable moments. If anything, I have made new friends after that day. This past week reiterated for me that for lasting relationships, the ingredient is never gossip.
Even to start new relationships, trust and respect are crucial. Holding space without judgement is more valuable than saucy chatter. It might feel lonely at times, but life is about surrounding yourself with a few good, safe people, not a circus-like large gathering of unreliable folks.
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” ~ Unknown