While watching the documentary The History of the Human Mind I was struck by the fact that two-thirds of human speech is used for gossip.
In many cultures gossip is considered a good thing, a way to form friendships or bonds. Yet, as a Baha’i I’ve learned that gossip is actually more harmful than helpful in the long run. I have also experienced this being true.
“gossip tends to keep us isolated in our own group”
I decided to dig a little further into the complexities of gossip, and found many articles that actually promote it. One article stated that humans have been biologically destined for gossip because of the release of feel-good chemicals like serotonin when we gossip, while another article explained that gossip can help us know who can be trusted and who should be avoided.
Why, I wondered, would gossip be considered so harmful by so many world religions, including the Baha’i Faith? For example, Baha’u’llah wrote that “Backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul.” (The Book of Certitude).
“Since we currently use two-thirds of our speech for gossip, it made me wonder how humanity would evolve if we worked on moving away from gossip”
Here’s just one possible reason: gossip tends to keep us isolated in our own group, because it reinforces our perspective by providing a second similar opinion on a shared event. It is often not founded in facts, which leads to hurt feelings and misunderstandings, creating a breakdown in communication. In short, gossip does not support a growth mindset – or rather an evolution of the mind.
Further, the Baha’i teachings ask us to:
Remember, above all, the teaching of Baha’u’llah concerning gossip and unseemly talk about others. Stories repeated about others are seldom good. A silent tongue is the safest. Even good may be harmful, if spoken at the wrong time, or to the wrong person. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London
So what would be the outcome if we stopped gossiping? Since we currently use two-thirds of our speech for gossip, it made me wonder how humanity would evolve if we worked on moving away from gossip. Maybe we would become more empathetic, more positive and less judgmental if we focused on the positive qualities of others instead of their faults:
One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
Personally, I have noticed a difference in how I treat someone when I intentionally work towards focusing on a person’s good qualities rather than on their bad ones. Not only do the Baha’i writings have teachings on how to behave, but there are numerous teachings in how to support these behaviors. For example, Abdu’l-Baha advised everyone:
To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten. – as quoted by J.E. Esslemont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era.
By putting this into practice daily, we can begin to reprogram the neurons in our brains, which will have a profound impact on our daily habits, and inevitably positively effect change in our lives not just for ourselves, but those around us. Going back to the aforementioned feel-good neurochemicals, showing love and care for others also has profound effects on the brain. It could be that in the future focusing instead on self-improvement could provide the positive dosing of those brain chemicals we all need, and in the end the world will become a happier place for it.