Ethics for Young Girls
Young Woman’s Journal, 1900-1901
Lesson 16: Gossip
What is meant by gossip? Webster defines the verb as “running about from house to house talking and carrying idle news.” His definition of the noun is “idle and groundless rumor.”
Gossip is a disease acquired in the same manner as the disease of drunkenness is acquired. It is indulged in at first almost unconsciously. The mind naturally craves excitement or amusement. This state of mind may be produced by gossip. the mind now has made a channel for this kind of action. It becomes less and less hard to gossip. Finally the habit of gossiping is formed. At this last stage it is a difficult thing to refrain from “talking and carrying idle news.”
Gossip very frequently arises from the fact that people make broad, sweeping generalizations with insufficient data. In psychology it is called “generalizing from too few particulars.” To illustrate: A man is seen going into a saloon. The rumor is circulated that Mr. — has taken to drink. Who knows his business in the saloon? He was unwise to go in under any circumstances, but wouldn’t it be a kindness to go to him and talk to him in a kindly and friendly manner? If he has been drinking, to show him the evils of such a course; if he has gone in on an errand, to explain to him that it is a duty to those who look up to him as an example that he give not the appearance of evil to his actions? But it is so much easier to talk about him to some one else!
It would be bad enough if only the truth were told about each of us, because we are anything but perfect; but people do not often stop with the truth, they enlarge upon it until it is entirely different from what it was in the first place.
Not long ago two students in a school broke out with smallpox. The report began to circulate and the number of cases increased with every repetition until it was finally announced in public that there were fifty cases in the school. There had only been two cases, but the effect on the public was the same as though there had been fifty.
It is not necessary to illustrate further. You all know how many young girls have lost their reputations through exaggerated reports. You no doubt have played the game of “gossip.” The company sit in a circle. One person whispers a sentence to the person on the right. She repeats this sentence to the person on her right, and so on around the circle. the first one then repeats it aloud. The last one does the same. It is amusing to note the difference between the two statements.
This same fact holds true in actual gossip. A statement concerning a person is made. The hearer, unintentionally, perhaps, colors it with her interpretation until it becomes greatly exaggerated. For this reason, it is not safe to make a statement derogatory to any person. We may say all the good things we can, for strangely enough good reports are seldom exaggerated. They are more often modified.
What is the harm to the person who gossips? The harm is greater to her than to the ones she gossips about. We can truthfully say, “No one but myself can hurt my character. I can progress in spite of gossip, providing the bad reports are untrue.” So that subjectively, no harm is done the person by gossip. She may weaken and do wrong because of the gossip, but she is the one that hurts herself. But let us look at the gossiper. She fills her mind with thoughts that do not elevate, but that degrade. When the mind is filled with these low thoughts there is no room for the high and noble thoughts which elevate the race. She becomes pessimistic, thinking there is no good in anyone. After a time she has not the power to be interested in any kind of conversation other than gossip.
The great difficulty with us all is that we talk about persons rather than about things. Conversation during afternoon parties is almost entirely about persons. It would be a good plan if the hostess at such parties would prepare herself on a certain subject and even suggest to the invited guests before-hand that they read along that line. Then she could skillfully guide the conversation by means of suggestive questions. What would be the results of such an afternoon’s talk? The guests would go home having been elevated to a higher realm of thought.
We should all bear this in mind that the lower people are in the scale of intelligence the more they are apt to gossip, because they are incapable of higher thoughts. To a cultured person nothing is so repulsive as a gossip. She is silly and cannot be trusted, for as she now talks to you of other people, she will in a short time talk of you to others.
We should try to have the thought always in our minds when we talk to people, “What can I say to help this person?” By doing so, we would not only elevate ourselves but also those with whom we come in contact.
1. What is the Mormon maxim?
2. How should we interpret it?
3. If an open letter is lying on the table, who has the right to read it?
4. Sing “Nay Speak No Ill,” from the Sunday School Music Book.
5. What is meant by “generalizing from too few particulars”?
6. Which one of the Ten Commandments treats of gossips? – Repeat it in concert.
7. How may we stop a person from gossiping about another person to us?