Alice in Wonderland drinking with the words curiouser and curiouser

I am a huge proponent of curiosity.  I believe when we lose our desire to learn, connect and grow, we lose empathy and social strength.

I have been down many rabbit holes in my life.  I can dig in to Reddit after watching a true crime documentary, texting and chatting with girlfriends about who we think ACTUALLY did it.  Often we find ourselves doing armchair detective work out of a need for justice for the family.

There comes a time when curiosity turns a corner into a far more sinister space, one of conspiracy and gossip.  Here in Pittsburgh we have a very special word for it:  NEBBY

definition of Pittsburgh slang, NEBBY for toxically nosy
As in, "Yinz got that nebby neighbor still?"

There is a fine line between curiosity and just nebbiness.  I am personally guilty of the latter at times, and it is a quality I do not like about myself.  Typically, I reserve it for some story in the press with people unknown to me, but in my effort to be authentic here, I must admit to gossiping with girlfriends more than I ever should. Something scandalous, the moment of having SCOOP before others, becomes a rush.  I struggle to type these words, because it is truly the opposite of who I generally am and DEFINITELY not who I care to be.

Why do we do it? ¬†Especially you ladies reading this today–why do we so easily slide into a space of scandal, gossip, even “mean girls?”

vintage image of women whispering gossip
it's a tale as old as time

Gossip, in the current era, has a tremendously BAD reputation. ¬†It is truly boiled down to women (or girls) creating false or damaging-but-true narratives against others. ¬†It is an invasion of privacy and a toxic one at that. ¬†If memory serves, it starts almost unilaterally in fourth grade when the first wave of girls feel a stir of puberty and a desire to “queen bee” in their social circles.

Would you be surprised to learn that the etymology of the word gossip is actually a godmother or part of the midwife team when a child was born?  Gossips were groups of women who could discuss, in a respectul discourse, anything from their own family needs to politics.  They were given space to do so.  It was not until the 16th-17th centuries (think witch trials) that the term became derogatory.  At this point, you may have guessed, it was also deemed punishable by husbands and town leaders (men).  Gossip had been a space of female empowerment until it was made OTHER and LESS because it was a threat to the patriarchy. [insert unsurprised eye roll]

So, quite literally, the personal power that came from women gathering together to a positive end was stripped away by men who felt threatened.  Over the past several centuries we, as women, have allowed what was once a sisterhood to turn entirely toxic in an effort to outdo our peers.  As a result, we have turned on ourselves in competition.

crown with words rising above

The past two months provided perhaps this century’s most egregious example of gossip gone wild with the British Royal family, specifically the Princess of Wales. ¬†Algorithms were set ablaze with clicks and theories of why she stepped away from public life. ¬†“Gone Girl” stories, Prince William’s rumored affair, is Kate even still alive flew around social (and regular) media. ¬†I saw countless teenaged girls on TikTok claiming to have some information from INSIDE THE PALACE confirming (anonymously, of course) some sordid tale that only THEY had access to. ¬†When the palace tried to placate the frenzy with a photo, the Princess was dragged for using photoshop, often by people I know to use it personally. ¬†Friday, she announced that she is undergoing treatment for cancer. ¬†The same media outlets are frantically reporting this development, yet not ONE has apologized for making outrageous claims for weeks and spreading the misinformation.

Many would argue it isn’t the same as gossiping about a neighbor–she’s a public figure and knows this will happen. ¬†Really? ¬†Is she not, like our neighbors, a mom? Has she not been a wife with a diagnosis while also reports of marital infidelity swirl around her? ¬†We have all forgotten that EVEN the most public of figures has struggle, family, fear, and emotional pain. ¬†As I had my own share of intrigue surrounding her whereabouts, and feel remorse for feeding the beast with each click, I reminded myself that it is no different than workplace gossip, or the backbiting of this gossip culture.

PLEDGE FOR CHANGE

We need to, collectively, take back the power and positivity that gossip once held. ¬†What if we ONLY shared the good news of others? ¬†National Kindness day was just this past week–what if that was each day? ¬†Could we keep mum on opinions not based in fact? ¬†Could we protect NOT just those we love, but even those whose stories surround us, reminding ourselves and others that everyone has pain and struggle?

In that effort, here is my list to combat the toxicity of gossip and promote collaboration, genuine curiosity, and growth:

  • Is it my business?¬†Truly…does it affect you or your people? ¬†Does your sharing of the information have any connection to you at all?
  • Get curious¬†If you learn that someone you care about is struggling, can you connect with them directly to determine what they need? ¬†Ask questions, but know that privacy matters–if you get answers, DO NOT SHARE. ¬†And if you don’t, see #1. ¬†MYOB
  • Show Empathy¬†¬†Imagine yourself in the situation of the subject. ¬†How would it feel to know that, in your darkest times, people were sharing your story in accurately? ¬†Would you want others finding anything from humor to satisfaction¬†in your pain?
  • Is it even true? ¬†This goes back partially to curiosity, but if the story doesn’t involve those known to us personally, the “truth” is likely discolored by a drive for clicks online. ¬†As a reminder of how little truth means online anymore, please check out my prior post/podcast with Riaz Patel about misinformation or watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix.
  • Practice responses for live gossip ¬†When you are going to see your nebby neighbor or gossipy friend, prepare responses AHEAD. ¬†Replies like “ugh, I would really rather hear about what YOU are doing,” “Really? I have never had that experience with them,” “whether that is true or not, I don’t care to hear anymore,” or even “Why is that funny/relevant/our business” which forces the gossip into an explanation of their motives for sharing. ¬†And finally…
  • Check your WHY¬†Spend some time in self-reflection. ¬†If you tend to fall victim to this, why? ¬†Does it somehow make you feel better to share someone’s challenges? ¬†Now is the time to explore why we, as a society and individuals feel compelled to bask in the misfortune of others. ¬†Is your story unimpeachable?

Take the PLEDGE

I am an agent for positive change!

Imagine the ripple effect if we vowed to follow these steps for truth, kindness, and empathy!

There’s a lovely verse in Philippians (4:8) that really is the core of kindnes:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

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