This is my story about how I learned to talk shit about people. Then how I learned my lesson to stop. Then how I learned how difficult it still is to keep my mouth shut.
I specifically remember the very first time I learned that it was okay to call another person “ugly.” (Just to clarify, I truly do not think that it’s okay but when I was about thirteen, it seemed to be). So this is little impressionable Dania’s experience. I was in seventh grade and I was hanging out with my cool, older eighth grade friends and some of my cheerleading friends who were my age. We were all in the same cheerleading squad at school. We were hanging out in the school gym, probably for practice or for a pep rally. And I remember this older eighth grader talking to me about another girl in our school who was also present in the gym but was not hanging out with us at that time. Let’s call this eighth grader Annie and the girl who wasn’t hanging out with us Janey. Annie says to me and a few other girls something along the lines of, “Oh my God, I cannot stand that girl. She is so ugly. I don’t know how anyone can think she’s pretty.” I’m not saying I was born and raised a perfectly well-mannered and sweet baby angel. I was raised Catholic (which I no longer am) and I did attend Sunday school and I was taught that God was always watching and listening and for some odd reason the principle of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” had always just stuck with me. Looking back, I think I felt guilty and afraid most of the time due to my Catholic upbringing to even think about “bad” things. Anyway, when I heard Annie call Janey “ugly” I didn’t say anything, but I felt stunned. Like, “WHAT? CAN YOU SAY THINGS LIKE THAT ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE?” Turns out you can and there are really no immediate consequences. Hearing Annie call another girl that – a girl who had never done anything to me – felt like it was okay to do so. From then on, I heard it a little bit more from Annie and my other friends. And slowly but surely, I felt like it gave me permission to say it as well. Then I went on to do a few more discreetly awful things, mean girls style. And that was the beginning.
Cut to several years later when I was older, perhaps in college or recently graduated. I was hanging out with a friend and I told her some juicy gossip trusting her not to tell anyone else. Long story short, that person told someone else and eventually it came back to me being the point of origin for sharing that damned story that was absolutely none of my business. People were mad, but nobody really “confronted” me other than ask if I was the one who said something and of course I had to admit it. The people involved were some that I cared about and others that I didn’t actually know very well, if at all. Regardless, it made me feel like shit. It made me feel stupid. Most of all, it made me feel like what the hell was the point of me saying anything to begin with? Because I was bored and needed something to say? Because I had no better ideas of actual substance to discuss? I was just being dumb, and the consequence of that was that I ended up hurting a few people and making myself look like an asshole.
Since then, I have NEVER talked shit about anyone EVER again.
I learned my lesson, yes. It is a conscious decision I have to make not to contribute when I hear people talking shit. But I’m not going to lie. It is hard. Sometimes I have no idea who the people are and so I ask questions and contribute my two cents. Sometimes I’m so frustrated by certain people that I have to vent and mean things pour out of my mouth. Sometimes – and I hate this one the most but I have to be my honest self – sometimes girls/women really are acting like bitches and how exactly can I keep my mouth shut when it feels like an insult not to stand up for myself? This is absolutely the hardest part for me because I feel like a hypocrite. I’m all about women supporting women and women lifting each other up and empowering women. But holy shit some women are so NOT about that and it tests my patience. Since the seventh grade, I have learned to go back to how I originally felt about calling others “ugly.” Not because of religion or because God is always watching or whatever moral compass I have as an individual. When it comes down to it, the word simply does not make me feel comfortable and I am not comfortable saying it about others. I don’t want to judge others on their appearances (except maybe Donald Trump because he is ugly on the inside and just the worst human being alive. Sorry I’m not sorry). But just because I have learned to control my use of the insult “ugly” it does not mean that I have obtained full control of other judgmental comments I’m capable of.
So, here are a few tips from a non-expert on remembering to be kind to each other and keep the shit talking to a minimum:
1. Just remember: Do not say things about others that you would not like being said about you. Simple.
2. Be AWARE of what you’re about to say. A big part of learning to control the things that I say when I’m with someone who is gossiping is to make myself aware of what is being said and what we are doing. This is an important step because a lot of us just talk and talk and don’t realize we’re gossiping or just don’t think about the consequences. When you become aware of where the conversation is going or what the people around you are gossiping about, you can make a conscious decision whether to contribute or not. Or whether to just change the subject.
3. You don’t have to condemn and come down with lightning rods on the people who are talking shit like you’re Jesus’s singular personal representative on Earth and throw Bible verses at them for being terrible humans. Do not be self-righteous. All you have to do is say stuff like, “Oh, that’s crazy” or “Damn” or something equally boring. Hopefully others catch on that you’re really not all that interested in this particular conversation.
4. If you are brave and confident enough, just say, “I really don’t feel comfortable with this conversation. I don’t know the person/situation so I don’t have much to say.” I know this can be hard. I think it can be even harder with people you are close to – like family and friends. Family and friends will straight up come at you with, “Dude you’ve talked so much shit about other people. Don’t act like you’re such a good person.” (At least my friends and family would because Mexicans have no problem calling you out on bullshit). All you have to respond with is, “Yup. I know I have talked shit and I like to talk shit because I’m human. I’m not always a good person, but I just don’t have anything to contribute.”Or maybe don’t say it out loud and silently remind yourself of it.
5. Just don’t fucking do it. I mean, really. It’s none of your business and who the fuck cares anyway. It serves no benefit unless you’re brainstorming ideas to help that person in some way. Find something more stimulating to talk about. Remember this quote: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” I believe it was Eleanor Roosevelt who spoke those wise words.
SO, just make a decision. Learn from my mistakes. I get it. Nos encanta el chisme! But we can start by just being aware of what we’re about to say so we can all make this world just a tiny bit kinder because we are in dire need of it. I’ll keep trying to do the same.