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Opinions of Thursday, 3 July 2008

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Gossiping: A Threat to National Growth and Productivity?

With oil prices in the stratosphere, the world economy in the doldrums and the stock markets desperately trying to exhale, right off the bat, no one will cheer for me for writing about gossiping, in this day and age. But I’m getting a little tick- off about the degree of which we spend our time on gossiping in Ghana.

With the pressures of life and responsibilities for the families, which have shredded the delicate fabric that waves our hearts and minds, I wonder how we can get the spare time to engage in gossips, so religiously.

Gossiping; it always goes like this:

”I just heard that; why do you want to know? Well, it doesn’t surprise me, he had it coming to him… the wife doesn’t know, of course. This is confidential and please you didn’t hear it from me…. Some people are lucky; they get lucky breaks all the time…. She is on the phone constantly, I wonder who she talks to; it surely can’t be her husband. He drives a new car every month, what kind of job does he do? Don’t ask me, you want to get me in trouble…. I can’t stand his voice, how did he get this job? Look, there she goes, she does it all the time and she gets away with it…. I guess we all need to wear skirts around here to get attention these days!”

These are some of the gossip choruses which I called “thought- poison” I wonder whether this national epidemic began with this generation or it is one of the inherited traits from our grandfathers and mothers as Ghanaians.

Gossip is a negative conversation about people. The person who is being gossiped about usually doesn’t know it. And, the one who does the gossiping seems to get some satisfaction from talking negative about others; while neglecting one’s own flaws and shortcomings

No one knows precisely the actual cause of gossiping, but it’s believed by the sociologists that sometimes when we can’t stand the notion of seeing someone whom we know doing better than us in certain socio-economic arena, we covertly balk at everything he/she does.

In a linguistic-oriented culture like ours, conversation plays very significant role in our interaction with one another and a good, healthy conversation encourages people. It makes individuals feel good like winners. It also brings the best out of them.

A negative conversation on the other hand can make one feel like he or she is in a poisoned environment. A “toxic conversation” can easily make the victim feel ill, depressed, unwanted and emotionally traumatized. Okay, I exaggerated a little, but you get the point. We all know the negative aspects of a toxic conversation—don’t lie, you have been both a recipient and perpetrator at some point of your life .Who hasn’t?

A negative conversation can sometimes affect the perpetrators by making them look and feel like losers and low-lifers who have scores to settle with victims of their actions. In addition, the person in the center of the conversation is reduced in stature and downgraded in the eyes of others. Sometimes, the purpose of the talk is to belittle the victim and make him or her devalued like an old currency.

In Ghana gossip is a pastime. This pastime has been ---promoted in recent times by the onslaught of cellphones, e-mail, instant- messages. In fact, they have practically made it easier, cheaper and faster to gossip with impunity. Gossiping has become a ritualistic, non-contact indoor sport which leaves invisible bruises on the victims and the gossipers.

At this point, I know there is a tendency to misread this piece as an attempt to indict only the Ghanaian professional gossipers. Far from that. No one—including this writer –is Mother Teresa or Gandhi, when it comes to gossiping. And, when every whisper-rumor always becomes a lie in our neighborhoods and towns it’s nice for us to discuss this epidemic in an open forum.

Having said that, it should be noted that not all conversation is gossip inclined. Sometimes”shop talks” are necessary. They serve a good purpose when they are constructive. However, when such talks are laced with jealousy and envy, they easily metamorphosed to gossiping.

Nevertheless, I’m not here to preach to you or give you a sermon about right or wrong. For, I’m not auditioning for Mother Teresa sainthood. All that I’m saying is when we do something that conflicts with our conscience .we feel guilty and that guilty feeling can jam our though process and prevents us from focusing on our goals.

Gossiping can start with a simple or minor negative thought such as examples in the first paragraph of this piece. And, If you like to get on it, you will be attracted to the ‘rumor milling machinists.’ It is very common for a gossiper to come rushing to you itching to say something negative about a person you both know.

So how much time do we invest in gossiping and what effect does this poisonous behavior have on us?

As a nation, if we had invested part of the gossiping time to engage in constructive endeavors we would have evolved into the middle income nation we each day dream about. But that is not the case. Strangely, we don’t even acknowledge gossiping as a national problem, let alone to find a way to get out of it.

Some diseases hardly get national attention, no matter how dangerous they are to the society. I wonder why!

If there were an outbreak of food poison for example, the entire nation will wake up to possibly fight it with every available resource. There is an outbreak of what I will called, ‘cancer’ in a thought form in our midst, which needs national attention than physical poisonous, yet we’re not even equipped to eradicate it.

Gossip, is a form of poison which differs from the body poison because thought -poison affects the mind. The bad part of the mind poison is that the person who is being poisoned usually doesn’t know it and it’s very dangerous, infectious, and disastrous and kills friendship quickly.

It is also a fact that persons who have a lot of time tend to gossip more. Busy, successful, forward-looking, optimistic and competent individuals hardly have time to gossip. Persons who have a lot of time to waste tend to gossip more. Perhaps this is where the old adage “the devil always finds job for the idle hand” is applicable.

You still don’t believe me? Okay, try to eavesdrop on people’s conversations at any public gathering and nine times out of ten the person who does the most talking about others is the least successful—literally and metaphorically .Ouch! The more successful one becomes the less he/she talks about others. That’s the gospel truth.

Unfortunately, there are no legal provisions against those who either by purpose or ignorance poison the minds (thought) of others. I believe this form of destruction—gossiping--- should be punishable by law because it very well endangers individuals’ safety and chances of acquiring material things which are protected by the law.

Poisonous- thought (gossip) affects the mind but not the body. It reduces the thinking of the one who is doing the poisoning by forcing him or her to concentrate on petty, unimportant things about the person being poisoned. In many instances, gossips distort facts and even create guilt feeling anytime perpetrators of gossip see their victims.

Who Gossips the more, men or women? For one thing, Gossip is an equal opportunity employer. Contrary to public opinion, women are not the more guilty ones. Oh, yes, men gossip a lot. But when men gossip, they tend to center the content of their conversation on: the Boss’ marital or financial problems, Why employee, Kwame Owusu was transferred, Why special favor for Sophie, Why the company hired inexperience persons. When men get together to gossip they tend to talk about who is sleeping with the young lady in the office. And usually the one who does the most gossiping tends to be the one who is not doing well economically and socially.

Don’t get me wrong, we can talk about people. Yes! Who doesn’t? But we have to try to stay on the positive side as much as possible. Remember when we hear something enough times(even if it’s false) we start to believe it because it’s instantly installed on our gossip hard drives .That is why it’s better to stay away from negative comments about other people.

Test Your Gossip IQ:

Please go through this small task to figure out your gossip--instinct status. Do you: 1. Spread rumors about other people? 2. Have you good things to say about others? 3. Judge others only on the basis of facts? 4. Encourage others to bring their rumors to you? 5. Precede your conversations with a “don’t-tell-anyone, and you-didn’t- hear –it -from- me”? 6. Keep” confidential “information confidential? 7. Feel guilty about what you say concerning other people? 8. Have an okra (slippery) mouth? 9. Like to hear reports of scandals?

How did you do with this exercise?

Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. The question we should be asking is: Is it worth all the effort and energy we put into that national pastime instead of investing the time on positive things that will uplift our own dreams and aspirations? Could it mean that we live in a nation which does seem to have no problems to keep its citizens busy? Yes, finding ways to curb this behavior is not going to be easy, but you can do something to keep yourself out of it.

How to prevent people from gossiping to you: 1) Switch the topics as quickly and quietly as possible, with remarks such as these: “pardon me,” “but … another time”

2) Excuse yourself with a statement like:”Sorry Akos, I’m late “Or “I have a deadline to meet, Will you excuse me?”

3) Make a promise to yourself by refusing to let others prejudice your thinking.

4) When someone else is discussing the absent of third person, be sure you compliment him or her with words like: “She/he’s nice person, they say he/she’s doing great.” Be extremely careful to avoid the petty cut him-down language.

5) Compliment people personally at every opportunity. Every one you know craves for praise.

Gossiping is very infectious and has no ally, because the person you’re gossiping with today may turn out to be the one who will eventually bring you to the gossiping altar tomorrow. There is no exclusion of any individuals by known gossipers.

How did we get to this point?

Unfortunately, the reasons why we gossip are too psychologically complex to be deconstructed .Therefore; it’s not going to be easy for the society to get rid of such an old-aged social vice. But, as individuals do we feel better after we engage in a smear and innuendo campaigns? Do we really feel better when we initiate the “small-talks”, to recruit the professional gossipers, instead of focusing on our own personal growth?

Bad-mouthing others leaves us bitter not better and, don’t forget that your success is largely depends on the support from other people. Therefore, making bad comments about others doesn’t make you win friends.

Does Ama’s choice for different clothes, belonging to different religion, and owning a Porsche worry the heck out of you? Do you get tick-off that much when you hear or see someone you know is doing better in life? Oh, well! Just find ways to invest in your own personal growth. Maybe, just maybe that will keep you so busy that you won’t have time to worry about petty stuff about other people.

Sorry , if I got you mad .But, before you start to attack me with your comments and e-mail please make sure you understand where I’m coming from. This is not an attack-dog on anyone. I’m just trying to address a social issue, which is threatening to cause a serious harm to our integrity –if there’s any left—and the trust we’ve in one another. It’s also affecting our personal growth and national productivity.

Did I fall short? You be the judge. But, at least, I tried!

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi