Whoever Gossips to You, Will Gossip About You by
(236 Stories)

Prompted By Gossip

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The Gossip (ca.1922) by William Penhallow Henderson.

The Spanish proverb that is the title of my story is a painful lesson I learned as a young adult. Growing up in a traditional Jewish household, I was taught two Jewish proverbs as a child:

“What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.”
“Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands.”

Of course, being taught something doesn’t mean the adults I knew, including my parents, actually lived by these rules. I know my parents, especially my mother, shared stories about others. Mahjong games were punctuated by the clacks of tiles and the cackles in response to gossip about others. Still, children were meant to be seen and not heard, and anything I may have overheard made no sense to me.

“Words have no wings but they can fly a thousand miles.“ ~ Korean Proverb

Gossip first touched my life in the aftermath of my beloved cousin Annette having a baby when we were both sixteen. This was a scandal my family wanted to suppress. I was told never to talk about it, including with my cousin. Much to my chagrin, a boy I was dating in college, who had gone to her high school, burst out laughing when I told him she was my cousin. Apparently, everyone talked about her, including the baby-daddy for whom there was no consequence. He was a macho man while she was a fallen woman and the subject of malicious gossip and ridicule. My immature response when he shared the story was to deny its truth. I wish I could go back to that conversation and tell him how cruel it was to gossip about what was the most painful thing that ever happened to her.

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

While most of my adult friends are great admirers of Eleanor Roosevelt, their minds are sometimes great, usually average, but at times they can be quite small. Once I had children and moved to the suburb of Evanston, I was naïve about trusting confidences with the new friends I was making. While everyone, including me, loved sharing a juicy story from time to time, I soon leaned that two women I considered to be friends could not be trusted. Even though we all discussed concerns about our children and how best to manage certain situations, these friends repeated private things I told them. Eventually, someone told me what they had said to many others. Lesson learned. Outside of close, trusted friends I never share anything I would not want others to know.

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” ~ Marie Curie

Finally, to all those who love to share gossip with me about people I don’t know, I’m not interested. Why would I be? I know spreading gossip makes these people feel more important, but not to me. I’m not at all curious about the lives of people who are not part of my life, including celebrities. I have found that even when I tell these gossips that I don’t know the people they are talking about, they are so eager to share what is usually scandalous or a tale of woe that they just keep talking. The only recourse is to say I have another call coming in or to walk away and get busy doing something else.

I’m still trying to walk that fine line between sharing news about mutual friends and gossip. The truth is that is often hard to know if I have crossed that line. Trying to remind myself of that old adage helps:

“If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” ~ Aesop

Here’s the perfect final word on gossip:

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wonderful proverbs and lessons, Laurie. Very wise.

  2. Right on Laurie!
    And too I have enough to care and worry about with no time or interest in the marriages or sexual preferences of celebrities – including Britain’s ridiculously wealthy royal family!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thank you for sharing this very important lesson with us, Laurie. And, thanks to your great research/knowledge, you have shown us that many wise people (and proverbs and fables) have stated it in different ways. Now, if I could only follow it myself.

    You have also noted that what is, in fact, “gossip” can be difficult to determine at times, much like defining “evidence” for us lawyers. But it is good to be skeptical about what is being told and passed on about others Reminds me of a joke I heard recently from a comedian about two women on a beach obviously talking about a third woman whom they had just walked by. The comedian, rolling his eyes, speculated on the odds that one had just said to the other, “Gosh, she looks so slim and beautiful in that bathing suit. And yet she is also just such a nice person.”

  4. Suzy says:

    All those proverbs and quotes are so true, Laurie. Thanks for gathering them all together in one place. And yet, I think it is just human nature that if you learn something interesting about someone, you want to pass it on to others who know that person. If only people spent more time figuring out (a) is it true, and (b) is it hurtful before telling everyone else.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      So true, Suzy. Before we share stories with our friends, and I will confess to doing that, we should all ask ourselves your (a) and (b). Recently, someone I know as a huge gossip told me a man I had met in our condo has Alzheimers. Definitely, this story failed both of your tests, and I told her that. Darned if she didn’t share it again a few weeks later. So cruel.

    • I agree. There is a FB meme I’ve shared
      that says before you speak let your words pass thru 3 portals
      IS IT TRUE
      IS IT KIND

  5. Marian says:

    What a detailed recap, Laurie, and I’m sorry that you had to learn a hard lesson about people you trusted who broke confidences. Judaism has lots of anti-gossip language, like the sayings you cited, and the Hebrew refers to “yetzer harah” (evil tongue). And, during Yom Kippur, it’s amazing how many of our transgressions are tied to speech.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    I enjoyed all the quotations (and the picture) Laurie. It is distressing when you find people can’t be trusted, and your last bit of advice is what my mother told me as well (if you can’t say anything nice…). I didn’t realize that was from wise old Aesop. It has stood the test of time.

  7. Your commentary is so wise, and I really appreciate it. I would like to think there are a lot of people who have your perspective on gossip, and the perspective reflected in those excellent quotations and aphorisms you included. Sadly, I have encountered too many who follow a different path.

  8. Nicely done, Laurie. You’ve chosen great aphorisms and personalized them with graceful reflection. I particularly liked the quote you chose from Eleanor Roosevelt. I feel that anecdotal evidence (read personal experience or references to individuals and individual behavior) often leads to the most specious and reactionary analysis. We’re full of it here in America. And yeah, I always clam up to someone who talks too much about other people. They must have something to say about me, too.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I totally agree that so much of what we consume as “news” is based on specious and reactionary analysis, regardless of what sources we use. I guess you could say much of our knowledge of what is happening in our country these days is actually a form of gossip.

  9. Wonderful, wise words to live by, Laurie! The stories on this prompt confirm that there is indeed a fine line between sharing news and gossiping. Sometimes we share because we care. But if we pay attention to the impulse behind what we’re sharing and get that little giddy little thrill, it’s probably gossip and we should just stifle ourselves right then and there.

  10. Dave Ventre says:

    There is something particularly sharp about having a confidence betrayed 🙁

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