The Virtue of Talking Behind People’s Backs

People who find themselves the subject of gossip like posting the quote above. And it’s ironic because, if we look at it closely, Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as the people who quote this, is actually talking about people. As much as I would like to be considered a great mind every so often, and with ideas being as fascinating as they are, I still don’t want to talk about them all the time. Let’s admit it, life would be boring if we only talked about ideas.

The topic of other people is a great conversation starter. It’s human nature to want to talk about thy neighbor, thy neighbor’s boyfriend, and their recent breakup. Discussing people doesn’t automatically equate to having a small mind. What will make you narrow-minded is if you only talk about people and judge them based on what they did that one time. I’m talking to you, people who gossip about Amber D’Alessio.

Discussions about people can evolve to discussions about ideas. People are as fascinating as ideas because no matter how much we talk about them, we will never fully know their whole story and what their motivations are.

A wise man said, “True friends are those who only say nice things behind your back.”

You need to love someone to be true to them. Yet you can love your friend and not like everything about her. As imperfect humans, our friends have trivial shortcomings that get on our nerves like always being late, never confirming or rejecting an invitation to hang out, or having an annoying laugh. The wise man would probably say that if you have issues with your friend, you should work things out by talking to them about it. But then how do you say to your friend that her laugh is irritating?

This is when the virtue of talking behind people’s backs needs to be practiced. While it’s true that communication is key to any relationship, communication during the height of frustration will do more harm than good. So when you’re annoyed at your friend, the best thing to do is to talk to someone else about it—not immediately to the friend you have an issue with.

Maybe this other friend can give you advice on how to approach your annoying friend. Maybe, by talking behind your friend’s back, you will realize that you’re annoyed because of some other personal issue that had nothing to do with your friend in the first place. The important thing is that you’ve let off steam and reflected on the problem so that you can deal with your friend better.

Facebook and Twitter have become our collective “other friend” when airing out our frustrations. There is never a day when no one has a complaint or life drama that they post online. The hardcore ones just post expletives without any explanation.

Imagine if we didn’t talk behind people’s backs. Imagine all that pent up rage if we didn’t tell our friends about how our boss is being unreasonable again. Imagine if our bosses told us what they really thought of us. There’s this episode in the TV series Bob’s Burgers where Bob hired Randy, a filmmaker the family dislikes, to make a commercial for the restaurant. On the day of the shoot, before Randy enters the restaurant, Bob told his family to say all the mean things about Randy that they want to say so that they won’t feel the need to say it to his face later—to let it all out. In short, talking behind people’s backs can be therapeutic and sometimes the more decent to do than saying what you really think.

I’m not advocating for people to gossip about their friends (although I think that’s also unavoidable.) But you don’t need to feel bad talking behind your friends’ backs if that’s what it takes to not bite their heads off the next time you talk to them. I know for a fact that there’s a group chat out there created because of some nasty jokes I said. And if the person who made that felt that he had to create a safe space where he could rant about me behind my back, then I support him. I would do the same.

Remember that scene in Mean Girls where Tina Fey asked the junior girls if they’ve ever talked about someone behind their backs and everyone raised their hands? Everyone does it. It doesn’t make it right, sure. But it also doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.

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