Gossip: the poison words

When’s the last time you talked about somebody behind their back? The last time you made comments, however small, about something someone else said or did? Based off of my own personal experience, it was probably fairly recently, maybe as recently in the last week or so.

Looking at the last time you gossiped, why did you do it? You had something to say about this person, and for whatever reason, you decided that it was easier to go behind their back and say whatever it was to somebody else, or maybe even multiple people. Maybe you were in a group of gossiping people and in order to join in, you brought up something juicy to add to the conversation. “Did you hear what he said,” or maybe, “I can’t believe she did _____!”

Before I continue, I should point out that I don’t mean to point the finger at you and scream “shame;” I’ve done my own fair share of gossiping in the past, as has nearly everyone. Whether we feel pressured into it by the conversation, or whether we simply enjoy creating drama in relationships, I’m willing to bet that every person you’ve met in your lifetime has gossiped about someone at least once. But, if I’m trying to get my point across to you, it makes the most sense for me to try and get you to think about your own actions, as opposed to somebody else’s. But I digress…

The word itself, gossip, has an already unsavory stigma attached to it – we associate gossip with the popular kids at school or the celebrity tabloids. Most people I know shake their heads at publications such as The Enquirer, a celebrity tabloid with headlines that are the equivalent of physical, tangible click-bait, but those same people often bring up others in their own lives behind their backs, laughing, scoffing, or even fuming at them.

So…gossip isn’t good. I don’t need to tell you that. Next to nobody will say they “support” gossip if you ask them about it, but nearly everyone still gossips anyway. Gossip is bad, hurtful, and deceitful, as most people will agree. So why the hell do we still do it?

Is it like smoking? Smoking has been clinically proven to be detrimental to your health, but I know dozens of smokers. Certainly they’re aware that it’s bad for them, but they do it because, one way or another, they enjoy it. It relaxes them, they like the smell/taste, etc. So is that why people still gossip? I don’t believe so, because while I know dozens of smokers, I know hundreds of people, and if each one of them gossips at least a few times, by that logic, they’d have to enjoy something about it. I refuse to believe that humanity is so incredibly demented that nearly all of us get our kicks out of going behind someone’s back. It just doesn’t add up, at least not for me.

I don’t write about this today because I’m being gossiped about, because as far as I know, I haven’t been recently (at least, not that I know of). I bring this up because I have experiences with friends who are being gossiped about, people whom I respect, admire, and care for immensely. The sad part is, the individuals who are doing the gossiping, I also respect, admire, and care for. If these people were fields of flowers, the part of them that gossips about others is scorched earth – burnt, dead foliage in a field of otherwise beautiful nature.

Again, I don’t claim any innocence in this, nor do I believe really any of us can. I don’t enjoy gossiping, but I’ve found myself doing it anyway when the conversation is leading towards it. This is something personal that I want to work on going forward – standing my moral ground with others, even when I feel pressured to conform to how they believe I should feel or act.

And while I’ve seen gossip many times in my life, I’ve also seen those who find out they’re being gossiped about. I’ve seen tears, collapsing against the wall…I’ve even seen holes left by fists of rage, peppered into the drywall. It’s heartbreaking. Whether the response to gossip is sadness, rage, or hatred, it all stems from a feeling of betrayal. Even if what was said about them wasn’t “all that hurtful,” the fact that it had to be brought up behind their back is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Absolutely nothing good comes of gossiping. All of us have our reasons we tell ourselves for doing it, but I swear to you that none of those reasons are worth it.

In the past few weeks alone I’ve seen so many people hurt emotionally by what has been said about them rather than to them by others, and I felt I needed to write something about it, partly to get it off my own chest. My mind is spinning and my heart is racing just writing this, because it’s genuinely something I feel incredibly passionate about, even if I’m nowhere near where I want to be in my “stop gossiping” journey myself. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try to get there.

Stay strong, and remember others.

– Ryan

Cultivating Authenticity (Part One)

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

If you’ve read or seen even a shred of motivational work in your lifetime, you’ve certainly heard the phrase “be yourself.” When I hear this, my mind goes back to the quote by E.E. Cummings I mentioned in my last post (“To be yourself in a world….is the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”). Simply “being yourself” can seem to lead to societal pushback, the whispers and murmurs behind our backs. It isn’t so much the act of authenticity that rubs some people the wrong way, it’s more so the guile of it. On one hand, we’re expected to be ourselves. On the other, we’re expected to be people-pleasers, expected to find the balance between honesty and keeping others comfortable. Tell the truth, but don’t say anything to make others too uncomfortable. Have the courage to disagree with the majority, but don’t say anything controversial. Do your best to sound informed, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

Some may argue that it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and people-pleasing, but I disagree. When we have to courage to be ourselves and nothing but, there will be some resistance, both from others and our own minds. We may fear that others may not like us as much when they see what we truly are and believe. So much of society is expected to put on the chameleon facade, adapting to the situations as they come, even if that means altering our personality and mask we put on for others. But, if life is about connections, then the only way we can cultivate and nurture those connections is to, and I quote, “be ourselves.”

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Many individuals already have problems with maintaining a healthy self-esteem, so to be asked to shed their safety blankets and show their true, imperfect selves can be incredibly daunting. But putting on a mask for everyone has its own risks. When we refuse to put our true ideas, talents, and opinions out into the world, they eat away at us. They fester in our minds and eat away at our worthiness. You can trade in your authenticity, but in return you may experience anxiety, depression, rage, resentment…the list goes on.

Think of authenticity not as a personality quirk, but as an active lifestyle choice. To quote Brené Brown, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” To quote her again, “Stand on your sacred ground.” Your sacred ground is your true self. Your morals, ideas, opinions, talents, all uniquely yours. Don’t let any disapproving glances or sneers from society throw you off your foundation, your “sacred ground.”

Mrs. Brown also has another invaluable piece of advice on the subject –

“I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

You were made specifically to be uniquely you. Don’t let fear of disapproval from others get in the way of what you’re meant to share with the world.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Your Imperfect Self (Introduction)

If I were to ask you to define the word courageous, what would you tell me? Would you perhaps give me some examples of individuals who, despite any fear, risk their lives for the greater good? Or, some smaller-scale examples, such as overcoming a fear of public speaking and giving a speech in front of a crowd?

The word courage is rooted from cor, the Latin word for heart. The original definition of courage was, “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Heroic acts are indeed courageous, but not all courageous acts have to be that of heroism.

Everyone wants to be courageous. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes a courageous act, but true courage lies not necessarily in risking one’s life, but in risking one’s heart. How do we risk our heart? We embrace who we are and what we’re supposed to be, and refuse to let others dictate what we should say, how we should look and, most importantly, how we should feel. To risk one’s heart is to be vulnerable at its most innate definition – we open up everything about who we are.

Our society is one of chameleons; we are experts at fitting in where we think we need to. We can alter our personalities to suit the situation we’re in, saying some things and holding others back. When we do this, we swap out one mask for another, wearing whichever one will get us through the situation with the least amount of collateral damage – without hurting others or ourselves. What’s more, this is encouraged by our society. We are told time and time again to put others before ourselves, and while this is a noble goal, the way we’re told to do this is ultimately self-destructive. Put your true self away, and bring out the you that can make it through this situation with no harm done to others. You may forget yourself in the process, but it’s okay, everyone does it.

So, if we take the concept of being vulnerable and being chameleons, they butt heads. We cannot be ourselves at every turn and please everyone. On the flipside, we cannot please everyone, but also be true to who we are as a person. E.E. Cummings once wrote,

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

In order to truly deepen human connection and find a love for yourself, it is completely necessary to be vulnerable. It isn’t optional. To be anything less than vulnerable is to be a chameleon once more – putting on the color scheme that will please others, and “switching it up” as need be. Compared to what I’m asking you to do, being a chameleon is incredibly easy. It takes the “no harm, no foul” approach of making it through situations, quick and easy. In return, however, you sacrifice meaningful connections and a sense of peace with yourself and who you truly are.

No, being vulnerable isn’t easy. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, unnerving, and, like many good habits, is very hard to stick with. Even the word itself, vulnerable, has a stigma attached to it – to be “vulnerable” is to leave yourself open to attack. Being a chameleon, when it comes down to it, is as much about protecting yourself as it is pleasing others.

It’s tough, there’s no getting around that. But how do you learn how to ride a bike? You practice riding a bike. How do you study for a test? You look over your materials, and practice your knowledge of it. How do you learn to be vulnerable? You practice being vulnerable. You learn courage by being courageous.

Great, you say. I’d love to be vulnerable. I’d love to be courageous and my true self and all of that cheesy stuff, but there’s one thing getting in the way. One large, looming, intimidating obstacle that stands in the way of pushing against the grain:

Shame.

The very first thing that anyone needs to understand about shame is this: everyone experiences it. Shame is a real and powerful human emotion, and the only ones who can’t feel shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Shame keeps us from being vulnerable by convincing us that, when people see our true selves, they won’t like what they see. While guilt is your mind saying, “I did something bad,” shame is your mind saying, “am bad.” Our true selves aren’t enough of what other people want to see, so we fall into the chameleon mindset – “I’ll become who they want me to be.”

That isn’t what our lives are about. We don’t live our lives for others, and so we shouldn’t live our lives according to others, despite what society sees fit to tell us. But shame is the single biggest factor in preventing us from doing just that. So, the obvious answer is to combat this shame.

How? The same way we open ourselves to being vulnerable: we practice. We build ourselves up to be shame-resilient, and work to convince our mind as best we can that those feelings won’t have nearly as much as an effect on us and how we live our own lives. In order to do this, we need to let go of certain mindsets that have been ingrained in our society to further support the chameleon mindset. And, in my upcoming posts, that’s what I hope to elaborate on.

To love ourselves and others is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous. To be courageous is to be vulnerable, despite the fear of shame threatening to push us back to our chameleon ways. If we combat shame, the rest will fall into place. Over the next ten-or-so posts, I want to go into more detail about certain things that invite shame into our lives and therefore, discourage being our true selves.

All of these concepts are things that I struggle with, and I know too well that many, many others do as well. I would love for you to join me on this journey of reaching a point of self compassion and love. As always, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or anything else, feel free to post a comment or use the contact form on my site to send me an email and I will always get back to you. Ideally, my next post on the subject will be up in a few days’ time, but life is unpredictable, so if it takes a bit longer, I apologize! I always look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, and hearing some of your own.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this upcoming series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter