Ripple effect of gossip | Editorial

Privacy on our small island community can be hard to come by. We like to know what is going on with each other, and sometimes it’s hard to discern whether that knowledge is based on fact or fiction. We all know how quickly a kernel of truth can explode into something much grander – and more harmful.

Orcas psychotherapist Rachel Newcombe led a chamber-sponsored discussion about how to uphold confidentiality in the workplace. It can be particularly damaging when gossip starts about the finances or future of a local company.  Hearing rumors, especially repeatedly, tends to increase our belief in them. And social media can multiply the exposure of one piece of untruth in record time.

How do you define gossip? The dictionary says it is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”

Why do we gossip? Newcombe says it’s human nature to want to be aware of what’s going on in our communities. It is a form of social currency to “know” things.

“There is a level of anxiety when we don’t know something. We want to fill in the blanks,” she said.

Newcombe said that when you gossip, you make the other person an object. In that fleeting moment, you are saying, “I am treating that person like he/she is not a human being.”

In the workplace, she recommended holding regular staff meetings to discuss boundaries and a code of ethics.

Newcombe says cocktail parties are a classic place for gossip to occur; most people are more comfortable talking about others than about themselves. Instead of saying things like, “Did you hear about so and so?” start conversations with “What did you think of that performance at Orcas Center?”

While it can be harder to have more intimate, real conversations, it is ultimately more healthy.

As Newcombe said, “we don’t grow without anxiety or conflict.”