Addressing gossip and building strength within sex-positive communities
If someone comes to you to talk, discuss, debrief, or gossip about someone else, listen to them. Be there fully for them; support them with your ears and your heart... once.
If they come to you again, to talk about the same issue about the same person, find a way to say something like "I notice we've spoken about this before. I wonder if there's a way I can support you to bring these issues up with the person concerned, or process them in some way so that you can move on?". If they decline, respectfully let them know that you don't want to participate in gossip.
There's a lot of reasons why I like this policy, or some variation of it.
I first came across it when I was living in an 'Intentional Community' (which is essentially a group of people in some kind of intentional living arrangement; it's like a community development project running on '11', using yourself and your close friends as experiments, and also as housemates or neighbours).
Intentional communities - like all communities - need to get damned good at getting along well and resolving conflict, if they are to survive and be nice groups to be involved in.
Something that is counter to this, and that often rips communities apart, is gossip. When someone tells a story about someone else, it often seems so compelling that it's hard to imagine that there could even be another side of the story. Plus, as recent studies - search "effect of gossip on hormones" - have shown, if we don't act with awareness, we inadvertently use the very act of gossiping as a way of bonding and developing trust with the person we're chatting with - at the expense of the person we're chatting about.
One thing leads to another, and what started out as one person's passing comment can calcify and become the whole story. And even if the story was true, or has some truth in it, what we're falling for is the idea that one side of the story is all there is; that the issues can't be resolved and that justice can't be served.
Left to its own devices, gossip will cruelly expel the person that is being gossiped about, or it will create such division and mistrust that the community risks fracturing and become dysfunctional. And, in the process, people will get really hurt, and otherwise good communities and their projects die.
The "listen once policy" short-circuits this process. It moves us all towards resolution, rather than calcification. It puts value on getting all sides of the story, and sorting things out, which is profoundly good for community and friendships. It's also good for all of the individuals concerned, because even an aggrieved person is going to be happier if they can get something that bothers them sorted out or at least more well understood.
And it goes without saying that the policy is better for anyone being gossiped about; if that's ever been you, then you know the importance of things like the right to know what's being said, the benefit of the doubt, the right to reply, and the right to be judged fairly. And you probably also know the importance of having the right to apologize and make amends, if that's possible and appropriate.
It can seem easier and quicker to gossip. But it's also a high risk game, because when we allow gossip to flourish, on some level we have to accept that we might one day wind up as the subject of gossip - what goes around, comes around. Gradually, it doesn't feel like a community we want to be a part of any more.
This "listen once and once only" approach assumes that the person being gossiped about is open to feedback. That's not always the case, but in my experience, most people, given the opportunity, know what's best for them, especially if they're in ongoing relationship or community with you.
Rog is the driving force behind Curious Creatures, and the main author of this sexuality blog in Melbourne. They were brought up white, middle-class, mostly heterosexual, and male. They now identify as kinky, tantric, polyamorous, queer, and very, very curious. Are you curious? Read more about Rog and Curious Creatures.