Gossip is a form of violence – it hurts, and is deeply destructive. The victim of negative speech can get their feelings hurt, as well as lose: respect, friends, job and career. But the harm that is done to the one speaking negatively is far greater. The negative karma incurred by one’s soul through gossip may take many lifetimes of difficult lessons to rectify.
A form of gossip that is so ingrained in our culture that it usually goes unnoticed is using the names of animals to insult someone. “Come on don’t be a chicken.” “She is such a pig!” “He’s as ugly as a dog.” These words are harmful in that they contribute to speciesism, a cruel prejudice against animals. They also enhance a false sense of ego and human superiority at the expense of course of the animal, but ultimately these words divide the speaker from the greater world.
What determines whether or not it is gossip? Sometimes people may defensively say, “I’m not gossiping, I’m just passing along something which is true.” Or, “It’s not a rumor, I was there myself!” Gossip can be defined as divisive speech. Saying something, which causes division inside of ones own being and among other people, causes you to have a derogatory view of the one who is being talked about. The easiest method that I know of to determine if it is gossip or not, is this: Ask yourself if what you are preparing to say will cause the person you are speaking to. to have a negative impression of the person you are talking about. If so, then your words will divide and not lead to greater harmony. If you want to live in peace then create that peace around you by offering a harmonious atmosphere to all.
What we think, say and do creates the reality in which we live. Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras, places great importance on the practice of ahimsa, or non-harming. He doesn’t present ahimsa as an optional part of living a yogi life, but as an essential component to the attainment of the enlightened state, the realization of the oneness of being. We are engaged in the practice of yoga when we consciously choose not to cause harm, to do our best to let go of harmful thoughts, words and deeds.
Due to feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem or ego, a person will resort to gossip to gain a feeling of self-importance. This habit is strengthened when both parties, engage back and forth with negative words about a third person. A friendship won at the expense of another is usually short lived as feelings of mistrust grow. If your friend talks about others to you they may talk to others about you. Most people feel best around those who they can trust and whose presence is uplifting and supportive.
I should also mention something here about swearing, or ‘cuss’ words. These words or phrases are of two types; insults directed toward Mother Nature and God. When someone uses words that refer to normal physical functions like sex or defecation in a derogatory way it shows that the speaker hasn’t come to terms with their own being as part of nature. The speaker shows a low opinion of things natural, things that all animals engage in. These words used unconsciously and repeatedly can lead to sexual and psychological problems. Using the name of God to express anger or frustration or to give emphasis to ones speech causes division inside of one’s soul.
Many newspapers, magazines, as well as radio and television shows seem to thrive on gossip. It may not be easy to train yourself to give up gossip due to its addictive nature and prevalence. But with perseverance this negative habit can be reversed. When you are trying to overcome the tenacity to eat certain unhealthy foods it may be helpful to fast from all foods for a while, so that your body may regain a more balanced state. The same is true for speech. Observing silence (mauna) can be utilized as a potent medicinal. Chanting the name of God, prayer and recitation of mantra are also very helpful ways to purify speech and so realign one’s self with the Divine Source. Also the ancient method of “think before you speak” works quite well.
Speech is a powerful gift, use it wisely and kindly.