In my interactions with friends and colleagues over the years it seems that more and more of us are coming to the conclusion that we are no longer interested in participating in small talk, gossip or meaningless conversations. The conversations we are interested in being part of are those that have meaning for us and are generative, that is they generate something that wasn’t there before the conversation began – a fresh perspective, an insight, a new strategy or a change of heart.
In other words, something positive happens as a result of a conversation that matters to us.
Meaningless conversations are not the everyday conversations about ball scores, the weather and the latest movie. Even conversations about mutual friends who are ill or injured can be generative so long as they are shared in the spirit of concern and support, not simply grist for the gossip mill.
But we are avoiding conversations about celebrity scandals, litigation proceedings and all the other fodder that fills conventional media headlines these days.
One way of avoiding these meaningless conversations is to avoid feeding from the media trough that primes the gossip pump in the first place. The other day I happened upon a TV station where I usually find a movie and the news was on. I chose to watch it for a few minutes simply to see what the content would be. Three stories in a row were of violence of some sort and there was film to accompany each story – a teenager who stabbed a nine-year-old family friend, a fire destroyed a local apartment building and a devastating earthquake that occurred in Nepal – all very sensationalistic. I was reminded of the old saying in media that “if it bleeds it leads,” meaning unless there is visible harm done, and they have video to dramatize it, the odds are the story won’t make the news.
Not only is there little or no value in knowing any of this but ingesting this “news” suggests there are only bad things going on out there in the world. What’s worse is that talking about any of this material does not generate insight or change of heart; it is merely gossip that does no good whatsoever and generates nothing but better-informed gossips.
Participating in gossip includes listening as well as talking. For someone to gossip about meaningless news, someone needs to be listening to them. I find myself excusing myself from any conversation when I realize that I have stumbled upon a conversation I do not want to be part of.
If it makes sense to become more conscious of what we are putting into our bodies and eating healthier, perhaps we should start paying attention to what we are putting into our minds and thinking healthier. This begins with the conversations we choose to be part of – whether by talking or through listening.