The tongue is mightier than the sword. That’s because it cuts deeper, and the wounds take longer to heal. At its meanest it assassinates characters and ritually burns them in sacrifice to the patron of gossip: the goddess Prattle. In such a community a person can be bleeding the death of a thousand cuts and not know why he’s anemic.
I put my thoughts on pause for a moment. I review what I’ve written and ask my most insightful critic to give me feedback. My wife says, “kind of gothic isn’t it…thousand cuts, ritual assassination, burnt offerings?”
I admit, she’s right. It is kind of gothic because when you’re on the receiving end of pointy tongues, it feels gothic. This is the kind of moss-strewn, fog-shrouded atmosphere that gossip creates.
It flourishes in dark places. It whispers like snakes, and gloats over the failings of imperfect people – you and me. It’s a distortion in the soul and tears the fabric of community. And we have all been guilty of it in varying degrees.
The tales we hear pander to our need to feel okay. We use them like ointment to soothe the sores of our low esteem and to create the false assurance that we’re not like those we’ve heard about. By broadcasting our neighbour’s shortcomings we embrace the illusion of walking on higher ground.
Talking behind someone’s back creates a kind of paranoia in the village. Trust is slain and people become suspicious. They ask themselves, “If they’re saying this about Fred, what are they saying about me when my back is turned?”
I call Fred and ask what it was like before he discovered he was being talked about. He tells me he noticed subtle changes in the way some people related to him. He blamed himself for his sense of isolation and doubted his value in the group.
In such an experience it’s easy to blame oneself because the dough of gossip is not always a batch of lies. And the bakers who knead and mix it often do so with malice. Therein lies the perversion of gossip: the absence of mercy.
Nothing justifies it. It doesn’t matter whether there’s some truth in the chatter, or even a lot of it. What matters is that someone’s life is being shredded, and the community suffers. Gothic is the feel in your belly when gossip pierces the soul.