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We need a “Gossipers Anonymous” where all the compulsive prattlers who habitually drag friends into petty, annoying, and hurtful interactions would be able to receive the help they need. You know who I mean: the folks who waste not a moment spreading juicy tidbits, who run to break the news and entangle mild-mannered people into sordid webs. Mussar tradition comes to the rescue with a six-step program.

Step 1

Is This Gossip?

When someone begins to speak ill of someone, ask yourself: is there a high-minded purpose to this conversation? Is pursuing this line of discussion making the world better in any way? If the answer is no, divert. “What did you think of that great pass in the last few minutes of the game?” Watch this changing-of-the-channel alter the direction of the chatter. The world is already a little better.

Step 2

Pssst … Do Not Pass It On

If you hear a juicy tidbit about a friend, never go to that friend and relay this information to them. You think you are helping them, but you are not. The better tactic is to turn to the person who has shared the wicked nugget and let them know that you are not interested. If you cannot muster up the willpower to stop them, step away from the gossip. Worst-case scenario? Resolve to keep it to yourself.

Step 3

Self-Examination

Consider why you indulge in these shenanigans. The gossip loop usually emanates from a place of low self-esteem and jealousy. Very few of us come into this world with a perfectly honed inner life. This is our life’s work. The best antidote is to contribute to rewarding endeavors. Small people talk about other people. High-minded people talk about ideas. Before falling into tale bearing, ask: will this be making the world better? No? Then cease and desist.

Step 4

Move from Victimhood

In the event you are a beneficiary of a friend’s hurtful gossip, rev up your inner-strength engines. Don’t take this personally. The way folks treat you says more about them than about you. Remind yourself that gossip is rarely passed on accurately. The person sharing this information has chosen to hurt you and to listen to gossip about you. As soon as they begin to share the info, interrupt, quickly deploy your parachute, and get off that plane. 

Step 5

Compassion for All

Stop gossip from forming in your mind. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Few of us are having a purely magical experience on our journey here on Earth. Every person you encounter has a “peckaleh,” a little piece of baggage, an aspect of life that is not so wonderful. When someone honks at you, consider that they may be on the way to the hospital; when someone fails to say good morning, consider that they may be wrapped up in thought; if you are not invited to a party, tell yourself your invitation might have been lost in the mail. Be kind to yourself. 

Step 6

Prayer as Prevention

Recite this version of a traditional prayer daily, if possible more than once: “Lord, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from words of treachery. Help me to fulfill the commandment ‘and you shall love your friend as yourself.’ Amen.”

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