Bad Habits 101: The Ethics of Gossip

Have You Heard? You are going to want to hear this, trust me….

earBeing ethical is about more than our grand gestures or big lifestyle choices. We can make the world a better place even by changing our little habits.

With that in mind, I wanted to share this recent experience.

I am often preoccupied with how I can be a more ethical person. It’s something I make a genuine effort with, and spend a lot of time thinking about. But the other day I got called out for behaving in a less than ethical way, over something so simple it completely slipped under my radar.


I don’t even consider myself a particularly gossipy person. I’m not talking about deliberately spreading malicious rumours, putting people down behind their backs, or the irrepressible urge to tell someone a secret I’ve just been asked to keep. Which is why it hasn’t caught my attention before.

Me, a gossip? No, no. I’m just a good conversationalist, a lively storyteller.

It happened like this.
My boyfriend and I were having a conversation about awkward sexual encounters. Suddenly I remembered a really good anecdote a friend had told me. It was juicy and salacious and very funny. I started my story full of confidence in the amusement it would cause, and – more importantly – in showing how amusing I can be.

‘So my friend (Let’s call her Bobbi), she was dating this guy, they went back to her house, and –‘

‘Can I just stop you?’


‘I don’t think it’s really appropriate for you to be telling me this. I mean, it’s going to be awkward if I ever meet this Bobbi.’gossip

‘Oh, she won’t care, she told me and laughed about it. Anyway, it doesn’t paint her in a bad light….’

I’m saying this but really, I’m not so sure. Just because Bobbi thought it was funny to tell me, her close friend, doesn’t mean she will find it funny to have it passed on, even to someone I consider discreet and open-minded.  She probably told me because she thought I was discreet and open-minded – but maybe that was a poor assessment.

‘Well, I would still rather you didn’t. I don’t think you’re a bad person for bringing it up, I just don’t know if it’s that…moral, for me personally.’

Then I felt a bit ashamed and we changed the subject.

It may seem way too simple a point to be writing a blog about – it’s essentially the ultimate mothers’ maxim, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ – but this whole incident really got me thinking. We tell stories all the time about the people we know, to inform and entertain. We particularly love to talk about the misfortunes of others, as these incidents offer comedic value and maybe make us feel better about ourselves and our own misfortunes.

But I think we could all afford to reflect more on what we say about others, and choose our stories more carefully.

The day after I had this conversation, I decided to repent by actively involving myself in positive gossip. I deliberately tried to bring up stories that were interesting, but also which painted my friends as brave, clever or inspiring. It was easy, and the anecdotes were just as interesting. I was just as interesting.

I would challenge anyone to just try this out for a week. You’ll be amazed by how much less you choose to say – and how much more.

And if you think – like I did – that you really don’t gossip that much, check out this blog post by Gretchen Rubin about ways we pretend to ourselves we aren’t gossiping. If you really don’t do any of these, good for you. If you do, you can afford to do a bit better, and be a little kinder.

We can all gossip less, and we can gossip more ethically. Spread the word.



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