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Just A Little Gossiping

“I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.” — Benjamin Franklin

Do you really believe that Franklin didn’t get into a little gossiping now and then? Well, he actually only resolved to stick to the high road. He didn’t promise to do it. That’s just as well, since he didn’t have much trust in anyone. For example, he said, “If you would keep your secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend;” and “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” It’s little wonder that he liked to play it close to the vest when it came to other people. Speaking ill of no man, excusing faults, and speaking all the good he knew was a very clever way to avoid becoming the focus of others’ gossip. Franklin may have picked up the strategy from Virgil who said, “Fama, malum quo non aliud velocius ullum, mobilitate viget, viresque acquirit eundo.” If you are a tad rusty with your Latin, that means, “Report, that which no evil thing of any kind is more swift, increases with travel and gains strength by its progress.”

With authorities the like of Virgil and Franklin admonishing you not to gossip, it’s in your interest to know as much as you can about gossiping and gossips. For instance, Walter Winchell clarified one of the gossip’s core strategies when he said, “Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.” The super stars pursue their art through inference and innuendo, not facts or plain talk. Bertrand Russell added his two cents worth with, “No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.” When it comes to gossiping, if you don’t have something good to say, it’s your turn.

Of course, Virgil and Franklin aren’t the only high road folks who advised against gossiping. Edward Wallis Hoch said, “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.” If that weren’t the final word on it, a Jewish proverb says, “What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.” No, that’s still not the end of the unsolicited advice. A Chinese proverb says, “What is told in the ear of a man is often heard 100 miles away;” and a Spanish proverb says, “Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” All of the high road wisdom not withstanding, don’t forget what Wendell Phillips knew to be true, “The Puritan’s idea of hell is a place where everybody has to mind his own business.”

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