Gossip: When To Hold Your Tongue

March 10th, 2010 by Kathy McManus

A new push is urging people to ask themselves three questions before gossiping.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Should gossip be stopped?

According to The Wall Street Journal, a growing number of educators, religious leaders, and employers are part of a new push to lower the volume on gossip, urging people to ask themselves three questions before speaking: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?

The questions — attributed to Socrates and Buddhist teachings — have been around for centuries, but are finding new followers in what the Journal refers to as “an age of cultural shrillness and unrestrained rumor-mongering on the Internet.”

Gossip is “emotionally lethal,” said the CEO of a PR firm who banned gossip in his office and is a proponent of kind/true/necessary. “If you stop gossip in your own life and bring it to the attention of your community,” he said, “then people will follow your leadership.”

George Washington University Law School professor Daniel Solove agrees that there’s value to the kind/true/necessary mantra — especially with children — but believes the bigger issue is the permanence of Internet gossip. “We can’t make people nicer,” said Solove. “So we need to keep pushing legal consequences.” He argues for tougher laws against “Internet irresponsibility,” saying that the threat of being sued is the best way to reduce malicious gossip.

But communications professor Susan Hafen, of Weber State University in Utah, questions the movement, saying that by prohibiting gossip we may be simply avoiding unpleasantness and rocking the boat. “If we only tell kind stories about people,” said Hafen, “then we may be avoiding holding people responsible for their actions.”

Tell us what you think: Should we try to limit gossip? Is the kind/true/necessary idea the answer?