About ten years ago, when I was an R.A. in college, our R.A. staff attempted to do a building-wide program/event called The Gossip Challenge. We'd borrowed the idea from the Oprah show, and attempted to get our residents and staff to go one whole week without gossiping (sharing or listening to), saying anything negative about another person, or playing people against each other -- i.e. telling one friend one version of a story (usually to create sympathy) and telling another friend another version. At the time, we defined gossip as a deliberate spreading of an untruth/speculation of someone's personal life or a deliberate spreading of a hidden personal fact that we knew someone wouldn't want to be public.
The program wasn't as successful as we wanted it to be. Despite tons of publicity and overhearing people talk in the hallways or cafeteria about the idea of "not gossiping," untimately it was just the R.A. staff who took the challenge. (Maybe the discussion among residents was the success???) We kept notebooks, or gossip journals, with the intent of documenting each time we were tempted to gossip or partake of an untruth. It taught us a lot. Made us realize that it is so easy and such an unconscious act to gossip. We kept record of what went through our minds not participating in the act, and what direction the conversation turned to. Ultimately, we found that our conversations focused on "us" rather than "others." And we focused on a lot of productive and positive topics-- people's successes, dreams, hopes, and desires.
I've heard Maya Angelou call the act of gossip as a process akin to "being pecked to death by ducks." In other words, it's a slow and destructive process that can be a little painful.
Now, I'm no hypocrite. I love to read entertainment fluff magazines, even check out a few celebrity gossip websites and cable channels, and talk to friends about what I've read. Sometimes I feel bad. Realize celebrities are real people, but that more people know (or think they know) them. But they have the same problems, joys, insecurities, and triumphs at different times in life.
I think about this a lot as an author with a book coming out. Now, I realize that authors are on the bottom rung of the celebrity ladder. And debut novelists are on the lower level of that bottom rung. So maybe I'm tripping. I just think about it.
But then I thought, maybe I should toy with the idea of revising The Gossip Challenge. But expanding it to include no negative talk about others, no negative SELF talk, as well no spreading of an untruth/speculation of someone's personal life or spreading of a hidden personal fact someone wouldn't want to be public. (With the one exception being politics. Politics is different. Politicians are accountable to us. You think?)
I thought, why not try this for one day at the beginning of the month. April 1. But if I (and maybe you?) tried The Gossip Challenge on April 1, would our friends and family take it as a joke? Would we be the April fool? Anyway, I'm going to spend that day (ok, the next day too since I'll be in a plane most of the day Friday) trying to challenge the gossipy thoughts I'm tempted to think and say. No talking about Myrtle's purple polyester pants, no talking about how much weight my colleague Kaley-Joe at Blank University lost or gained (or why), no wondering why my colleague Tookey-Sue at Pizza University is bringing along a student who's also a personal boy toy, or no pondering Oda-Mae breaking the white shoe rule.
The thought won't even cross my mind.
Can I do it? Can we do it?
P.S. In addition to politics being immune from The Gossip Challenge, Braided Pony Tail Psycho Man and Contolling Husband from the gym are also immune... hmmm....