Growing up, my parents never sat down with us to have a formal conversation about their thoughts on pre-marital sex, teen pregnancy, drugs, good behavioral norms or values. Yet, we grew up with a very firm understanding of where they stood on all these issues.
How did that happen? Via el chisme:
“Mira lo que le pasó a Gloria! La hija le salío con una barriga a los 16 años! Y como no? La muchacha andaba siempre loqueando por ahí– con noviecitos a los 14 años, y con maquillaje puesto antes de saber cocinar…”
["Look at what happened to Gloria! Her daughter just got pregnant and she's only 16 years old! And why wouldn't she? The girl has always been running loose -- with boyfriends at the age of 14, and with make up on before learning how to cook...]
Did they need to say more? No.
But they actually did. In fact, they said much more than that — and used words I cannot write here, with a tone of criticism, disgust and offense.
Did it work? Absolutely. My sister and I grew up being the good girls our parents expected us to be. But, this was more out of the fear of being demonized by our parents, than our good sense of what was right for ourselves. Aside from that, it took me years to realize that life was much more complicated than how un chisme portrayed it. This was a hugely important lesson.
El chisme is a form of communication about someone else (or others) — about a recent event or a fact about the person(s) involved — often with a clear or suggestive negative judgment. It might also involve a tone of criticism and sarcasm, and in some circumstances an unconscious sense of gratification.
The Power of El Chisme
With good reason, gossip is often described as “juicy” — a sweet, enticing sharing that tickles our thoughts and ideas about others. Whether el chisme is about our next door neighbor, a co-worker or a Hollywood star, gossip has the power to make us waste $5 on a gossip magazine; engage in gossip about the same person we were boasting about last night; or violate our own values on secrecy, privacy and friendship.
So why do we gossip?
From a sociological perspective, it could be argued that el chisme may have had an important social purpose at some point in history. It might have originated as a way of spreading news from smaller social groups to larger and more power ones, when no formal news/communication venues were available. In these modern days, however, we love gossip for the following reasons:
- Sense of Connection: It makes us feel connected to the other chismosa(o). Gossip gives rise to a sense of loyalty between the chismosos, by scapegoating and alienating the person being gossiped about.
- Social Currency: Gossip gives us a sense of power, especially when we’re the first to know and share something other people don’t know. Getting there first (i.e., being the first to spread the news) is good social currency.
- Gratification: We might not be ready to admit this, but the truth is that gossip makes us feel good, especially gossip about those admired by others or in power. Gossip helps us realize that no one is perfect.
- Roundabout Way to Communicate Values: Gossip is anchored in judgment and values. When we gossip, we are unconsciously communicating our own cultural and life values, as well as our expectations of others.
The Problem with El Chime
Gossip is the opposite of a prayer. When we pray or meditate, we connect with a higher power in search of calm, hope, compassion, redemption, love and peace. When we engage in gossip, we connect to a lower power — fostering ill thoughts, negativity, anger, resentment and sometimes aggression.
Here are some other reasons why gossip is worthless:
- El chisme has the power to undermine humanity. Gossip is too simplistic. Humanity is complex.
- El chisme has the power to divide and create animosity among the best of friends and the closest of families.
- El chisme hurts people’s feelings, and it has the power to bring down someone standing on top of a mountain.
- El chisme is limited communication, not real conversation. If the third party you’re gossiping about is not present in the conversation, you’re not getting the full story.
- Count on this one: If a friend gossips to you about a third person, she is bound to do the same to you.
- El chime is a cowardly act. If you have the guts to gossip, have the guts to fully express yourself to all parties involved.
- Simply put, el chisme is bad kharma. What goes around, comes around. You get what you put out there in the universe.
- El chismear is a waste of time. We already have a lot on our plate.
Detoxing from El Chisme
Gossip can become such a part of our lives — our way of interacting with friends and love ones — that it might be difficult to curve our enthusiasm for gossip. But if you’re ready for some gossip detoxing, here are some tips:
- Recognize gossip as soon as it begins. This is key. Knowing when it’s coming will help you get ready for how to respond to it.
- Be a listener, not a gossiper. You can listen to the gossip, but you do not need to agree, add fuel to the conversation, or get overly excited. Once you do that, you are gossiping too. Instead, use neutral words/comments like: I see…I hear how you feel… Or, simply ask: how does that make you feel? What do you think about that?
- Play Devil’s advocate, in a compassionate manner. Sometimes, you might feel confident enough to question the chismosa(o), and bring in a different perspective to the conversation, without making the gossiper feel judged or bad.
- Avoid the conversation. Don’t return the phone call with a message hinting gossip. Change the conversation to something else when gossip comes up. Let others know that you’re avoiding this type of conversation.
What role has gossip had in your life?