Wednesday, March 02, 2011

But I Want Everyone to Like Me!
My name must taste good;
it's always in someone's mouth

I'm pretty oblivious to gossip. Everyone else in my office knew months before I did that two coworkers had left their respective partners to be with each other. When I found out, I was shocked. My coworkers laughed at the fact that I had no idea. In junior high and high school - the prime time for gossip - I never had enough friends who had enough friends to gossip about anyone, and I seriously doubt anyone gossiped about me. I was one of those shy, geeky kids who hid out in the corners and barely spoke.

Gossip and its attendant drama only entered my life on a personal level about 2-3 years ago, when I entered a very close-knit community while trying to make my relationship work. Even so, until recently, I never really knew what people were saying about me and my situation, and I really didn't care to. I did know that one woman in the community, who was known to be a little off-balance, accused me of puncturing her car tire with a screw and of wrapping a t-shirt around her axle, as if I even have the strength or flexibility (much less the desire) to do anything like that. When I posted that to Facebook, a friend commented "I wish someone thought I was that crazy!" while others worried for my safety. In the relationship, as part of my ex-'s flirty and outgoing character and extremely social lifestyle, I ran afoul of a few women who would gossip about me, and last night, trying to work out a friendly relationship while also helping out in a music community that my ex- and I co-founded, I encountered it again.

Now, drama is always the responsibility of all parties involved. I can certainly to point to times when I've chosen drama over rationality, written ill-considered e-mails, said something out of line, or chosen to engage with someone who I knew had already made a negative assumption about me. I've lashed out, gotten jealous, made catty comments. I'll never deny that I've contributed to some of these dramatic situations, and sometimes inflamed them unnecessarily.

However, once I realized that I was contributing to the drama, I chose to disengage. I apologized to one person in particular (who responded by saying I was a "moron who thinks she's enlightened.") and tried to move on. But these situations continue to bother me. Last night, while two women who have a problem with me gossiped in the kitchen - I assume at least somewhat about me - I chose to stay out of the kitchen and to enjoy the positive, warmhearted people elsewhere in the place. But it still bothered me, these women. Just like it bothers me that this other woman thinks I jammed a screw into her tire. And that someone I was trying to help with some mental health and grief issues - and whom I thought was becoming my friend - wrote me off because I tried to set a boundary with her. It hurts, even when I know these people have their own issues and pain. At my core, I just want everyone to like me.

Gossip and drama are about a lot of things, I think, for the ones participating. It makes the gossipers feel superior and self-righteous, and it distracts us from our own boredom, pain, or difficult emotions. When we are the focus of gossip, it feels like an attack, and we usually respond by defending ourselves, which usually just inflames the situation. We either get angry or are genuinely hurt and respond by trying to convince the other person that we're not what they say we are. In as sense, we all participate in some gossip and drama. We all talk about one another, share judgments, offer opinions, laugh at one another's foibles. But when the gossip becomes malicious, and the conversation becomes irrational and turns to drama,  my experience is that there is nothing that will stop it except total disengagement.

But it still hurts and mystifies me. I just want everyone to like me! Last night, I sensed the negative energy from these women, and I chose to stay away. I basked in the glow of the love of the others, and of the music, and of watching my friend with his visiting teenage daughter, watched the obvious love and respect there. When I think about the gossip and drama, and feel that hurt, I switch my thoughts back to the warmth and love that I also felt, and I resolve to become better at choosing not to engage in drama and gossip. It causes pain, out of pain. And why do we need to cause more pain in such a world?

Some tips for not getting caught up in gossip and drama:

1) Do your best not to gossip or to foment drama at any time. Gossip is lazy, and drama is usually rooted in our own insecurities or lack of emotional self-awareness or control. If you find yourself getting involved in drama often, you might consider looking at how you are creating or attracting drama.

2) If someone gossips about you or starts creating drama, disengage. This can be hard when someone accuses you - even if indirectly - of something. Naturally, you'll want to defend yourself. If you must do this, choose a time to talk to the main instigator, in a calm, clear, sober state, and state your case once. Tell her you would appreciate it is she stopped gossiping about you. If she continues to gossip, accuse, or argue, stop talking and walk away. 

3) If people come to you telling you about someone who's gossiping or who's creating drama, state your situation or viewpoint clearly and without blame, counter-gossip, or judgment. Ask them to help you keep the situation under control by not passing on the gossip.  If they continue to gossip or pass on stories, stop engaging with them to the extent that you can. Don't bring up the situation. Don't give fuel to the fire.

4) If you just cannot bear to disengage emotionally, remember that not engaging with the gossips will actually enrage them, and is the best revenge, anyway!

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