I like to talk. About everything. About current events, past events, books, movies, anything. But I especially like to talk about people. I like to talk to people about themselves, about me, and even about other people. Though I would hardly say that I spread destructive slander (or in this case libel), I like to gossip. And I’m not going to apologize for it. In fact, I have a well-rounded case for talking about people who aren’t in the conversation in which I will prove that talking about people who are not present is not victimization, but an act of mercy.
Firstly, it is a foolish man who thinks it is possible that no one will talk about him ‘behind his back’, and an even more foolish man to want that. I love finding out that people have talked about me when I’m not around, because it means I exist to people other than myself, that I have made an influence on those around me, and that they remembered something I said or did well enough to talk about it later. I used to love finding out that the teachers in the English department had talked about an essay I’d written; I was flattered and delighted that I had made enough of an impression that they would discuss me among colleagues (this happened like, uh, twice). If I am lucky enough to hear what people say about me when I’m not around, I get a rare glance at how people view me. Sure, I know how I want to project myself, but I hardly ever get the chance to see if the signals I send out (so to speak) are the same signals that people pick up. Even if they say less than flattering things about me, if someone is brave enough to tell me about it, I can alter how I act or treat other people so that the next time people talk about me when I’m not around, it will be something I would be glad to hear.
When I talk about someone who is not in the immediate vicinity, I am consciously and absolutely paying him or her a compliment: something you did or said made me think enough to bring it up in conversation. It is much better that people talk about you than NOT talk about you, because that means you’re not making anyone think or laugh or remember. No mature person could possibly think they exist for others only when in direct encounters, or even think to hope for that kind of existence. We are always in existence for everyone we meet, whether close or far away, for each of us has our own unique imagining of every person we meet. If my imagining of a person is vivid enough that it demands attention even when the real person is gone, it is credit to the real person. All I ever hope to gain in talking to others about my imagining of someone is that I will be able to understand them better, to get the image I receive become that much closer to what they as a person really are, or at least what they project to the world.
If someone tries to hide the truth or keep a secret, it says she is conceited and pretentious. It is an act of subtle arrogance to think that you know what is best for a person, to think that you know that it will be better that they not see the truth of whatever silly secret you’re trying to hide. In other words, who are you to decide who hears the truth and who doesn’t? Who are you to decide what is best for others? If you do something you’re ashamed for other people to know, you probably shouldn’t have done it. If you are in some relationship that you don’t want other people to know about, you might need to evaluate just how good that relationship is. Secrets are exercises in absurdity and futility because they are always a pathetic means of drawing attention to an event or situation that deserves no notice, and would have gotten none if it has not been made into an all-important ‘secret’.
Secrets and gossip are ways that people try to elevate themselves over the people around them, and such lofty ambitions should be deflated accordingly. If I talk about something enough, it ceases to be so interesting. If I freely acknowledge and discuss a truth, rather than keeping it a secret, it does not hold such false importance. To hide or obscure the truth is worse than a lie, because it serves only to make the secret-keeper feel more important and garner ill-deserved attention. So when I talk about you when you’re not around, it’s a gift. When I tell others about something you did, it’s a favor. And when I invite you to do the same for me, it’s a challenge.
As always, readers, I invite your feedback and I would love to be proven wrong.