The Bite of a Snake
Last week I was invited to speak at a dinner. The talk went well and I kept to the time limit required. The next morning I was sitting somewhere and heard someone saying to a person who had walked past me and I had recognised from the previous evening “gee, I heard that you had such a business here last night”. The familiar person inquired as to what the gossiper was referring. He went on ”apparently the speaker just went on and on and did not stop speaking”. I could hear the other person whispering tensely and try to usher the person out of my earshot. My reaction was to think how fortunate I am to have just been given the topic for next week’s article. This moment made clear to me why gossipers have been compared by sages to snakes. Snakes bite even when there is nothing to gain by spreading their venom. This person had not attended the talk. The person who related the story to him was obviously more interested in the next course that was going to be served than in what I was saying. The guest had felt frustrated enough by the wait for food to make this the focal point of his recollection of the evening, which was his prerogative. The question is, why spread poison about it, especially for the person who was not even there. The real problem here is not the reasoning behind the gossip but its insidious and pernicious effects. Firstly this story shows how it can have infinite spread in time and space, because even people with no interest in the issues somehow feel the need to spread it. There is no limit to the potential damage gossip can do or to how long that damage lasts in time. Imagine if ninety five percent of the audience benefitted from the talk and therefore more people could benefit in the future from similar talks. Yet a handful of people, like the man I am mentioning try, for no benefit to themselves and with no knowledge of the truth or the content of the talk, to destroy the reputation of the speaker. Not only does to gossiper potentially stand in the way of the speaker getting further engagement and therefore directly affect the person earning potential. The gossiper also closes off the potential for other people to derive benefit from such a talk or course or service from the speaker. People treat gossip lightly when in fact is a social cancer that can cost lives, livelihoods, marriages, families and ultimately erodes the social fabric of society. Speech is a powerful gift that we have to build, inspire and affirm others-we need to use it with caution.