Some days it feels like there’s a “kick me” sign on my back, but instead of “kick me,” the sign reads “tell me all your gossiping grievances despite the fact that we aren’t close friends and I’m actually in the middle of something and generally pretty happy today.”
They may as well say the same thing. One just fits better on my imaginary sign.
Here’s the thing: I don’t care for gossip. I don’t like petty complaints. I give people the benefit of the doubt, like 95% of the time. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know this to be true. So when people come up to me and start trash-talking other people, people who I hadn’t even considered had any faults, it kinda ruins the next fifteen minutes of my day.
Here are six reasons this is true.
- I begin to think that’s how you talk about me. Yes, you talk sweetly to me and seem to enjoy my company when I’m around, but I’ve seen you roll your eyes when someone makes a mistake. And I make lots of mistakes. So I begin to imagine that when I’m not around you are probably saying similar things about me. This isn’t an illogical leap. It may or may not be true. But if I start to think you are talking about me in the same way, it begins to negatively color my opinion of you. And so far, I really like you (see number 2, that’s my default). I don’t want that to change.
- I was just getting to know that person, and so far I really like them. I prefer to form my own opinions about people by actually speaking with and interacting with them personally. I’m told I’m a pretty good judge of character and if something seems off to me, then and only then will I be able to decide how to interact with that person in the future. But that still doesn’t give me or you the right to talk to other people about them behind their backs. They could have been rude to me that one day, but totally nice to the next person after they had their coffee. Far be it from me, or you, to damage that person’s reputation to the people who have seen nothing but their good side.
- They aren’t here to defend themselves… That girl you think is nosy and should butt out of everyone’s business? That guy you think is “stupid” and can’t get anything right? That pair of friends/coworkers that you think talks too much instead of working? The lady with the colorful hair who you think is much too old for that look? They all have reasons for the things they do that annoy you, and some of them may be good reasons. But because they aren’t around to tell you what those reasons are…
- … I am left here with you to awkwardly attempt to do so. That girl? “Maybe she’s someone who just likes talking to people but lacks the confidence to talk about herself, so instead asks a lot of questions. I dunno.” That guy? “Well, maybe he’s just young and this is his first job and he lacks the experience needed to understand the importance of hustle and accuracy in the workplace.” Those friends? “Um, I dunno, maybe they haven’t seen each other in weeks and are just now getting an opportunity to catch up.” That lady? “So… did you know that shade of bright color is the awareness color for a certain type of cancer? Maybe she’s a survivor or supporter of someone with it. Or maybe she just likes that color, I dunno.” When people aren’t around to defend themselves, I feel this need to do it for them and make up explanations that may or may not be true of the situation, but that paint them in a better light because I don’t want to think of them the way you’re describing them.
- Sometimes I can’t think of an explanation quick enough. All of those examples in number 3 are actual things people have said to me. Just came right up to me, or sat next to me, or snuck in behind me to mutter under their breath, without any kind of warning. Because, again, that imaginary sign apparently invites them to do so. Then there are the things that people say to no one, but just loud enough for the person closest to them to hear. And when it happens, intentionally or unintentionally, I don’t always have the wherewithal to think of how they may be interpreting the situation wrong and also voice that to them in a graceful and timely manner. Sometimes, by the time I think of a defense, they have moved on to another task or another topic and I’m left a little sadder because I wasn’t forthcoming enough with a rationalization. And worst of all, that often leads to this:
- I accidentally engage you. I hate that it happens, but I’m human and it happens. I just can’t defend everybody’s honor as quickly as would be effective, so sometimes, I just let you talk and even ask probing questions about why you feel that way about them. I often do this with good intentions, hoping that you’ll see how ridiculous and mean-spirited you sound, but it doesn’t always work. And you leave with the unconscious assumption that what just happened is ok to happen again in the future. It’s not.
Please don’t hear me wrong. I am not opposed to a properly timed and placed vent, or even a spontaneous rant if we are good friends. An example of a proper place and time could include a private message, if we are close enough for that. This gives me the time to mentally prepare for what you have to say, and if I, myself, am having a bad day, I know you won’t mind if I put your rant on hold for 15 minutes after seeing it so that when I come back to it (because I know it is important to you), I can do so with a clear mind and a heart ready to receive, commiserate, and encourage. Another appropriate time and place would be something like a coffee date where we have set aside a fraction of our time to just be together. This time would include talks of all the things we are going through: the good, the bad, the ugly. It might include complaining; it might include some tears. But it will always end in laughter and a renewal of our weary souls.
I also understand that sometimes, people just need to let go of the things on their hearts to whoever is nearest and willing to listen. I will absolutely be a person to let that happen. Even if we aren’t close, we can be best of friends for 5 minutes while you unload, and all of your worries, fears, and secrets of that moment will be safe with me.
But the little things. The things that are really of no consequence and just barely affect you. Please keep those things to yourself.
Because everyone has a story and a reason and a right to the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. You may need less proof than I do, but let’s not sit around and compare notes on other people’s reputations.
Please and thank you.