An epidemic of malice

[ Dr Hage Tabyo ]
Last year, during a visit to the GNRC hospital in Guwahati (Assam), I had a chance meeting with my former teacher at the Guwahati Medical College, Dr Nomal Chandra Bora, who is the CMD of the GNRC.
During our brief conversation, he recalled a very interesting story about an experience from among his numerous sessions of medical seminars (CME).
“’Sir, of all your discourses I attended in these couple of years, the one that impressed me most was your talks on a subject over a psychology chapter, Evils of gossip,’ told an enthusiastic CME participant to me once,” he recalled.
“What did I tell these young clients in fact, Dr Tabyo, do you know?” the soft-spoken, ever ingenious septuagenarian physician asked me.
He continued, “You know, I showed them a thousand-rupee note and asked them: ‘To light a candle, all you need is a matchstick which costs just about two paisa. Shall I instead use this 1000-rupee note to light a couple of candles and then crush the note and throw it away?’
“They looked at me as if I were talking something totally crazy, which it actually was,” Dr Bora said.
He continued: “’If I were to do this, you would call me crazy, right? You would think: this man really does not know the value of a thousand rupees. He is using it just to light two candles and then throw the burnt note away!’ To this, my audience agreed, nodding their heads. Then I told them, ‘If Dilip and I were to meet during lunch break and speak only ill of John, nothing else, then we’re doing something far more serious than burning a one thousand-rupee note; for John’s reputation is worth more than a thousand or even ten thousand rupees. Don’t you agree?’
“They nodded their heads in agreement. ‘Then, why do we do it? Would you be pleased if others were to spoil your name by just gossiping – only false naming and nothing else? Hence, gossip is an epidemic of malice, nothing less. A person’s reputation is a treasure that’s worth safeguarding. It is worth more than things – far more valuable,’” concluded Dr Bora.
Such was the wisdom of the renowned neurologist from Assam, who is immensely popular all over the Northeast region. The man is equally famous for his health tips which are published regularly in the GNRC Health fortnightly magazine, in his column, Sikitshakar tukabohi.
This is an invaluable tip I received from the ocean of wisdom of Dr Nomal C Bora, my erstwhile guru. Gossip is nothing but idle talk, or rumour, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. And these days, social media has provided a broader platform and a much wider range of channels to share gossip – the valueless and worthless time-consuming talks.
The word ‘gossip’ is derived from Old English – God-sibb, from god and sibb (silly). In the 16th century, the word assumed the meaning of a mouthy person, usually a woman who delighted in idle talks – a news monger, a tattler. The term originates from the bedroom at the time of childbirth. Giving birth used to be a social, ‘ladies only’ event in which a pregnant woman’s female relatives or neighbours would gather, and there would be chattering, and this is where the term ‘gossip’ came into being, meaning just talks about neighbours and others who are not present.
It’s a proven fact that a person who loves gossiping does so with those who also enjoy gossiping. They do not pick out the holiest person around to share gossip with. If I speak ill of you to Ajum and Marnya, they will tell Takio, Tania and Aniya, and so on. If they are gossip mongers, they are likely to add more and embellish details to make the gossip even spicier.
Ajum and Marnya, Takio and Taniya will tell ten or more others, and on and on. The toxin goes on and spreads faster than we think. The one who enjoys hearing gossips is also someone who loves spreading it. I may have spoken ill of you to just one person, but I have no idea how many people will think badly of you because of one act of gossip. It’s obvious that gossip does go dangerously viral.
Gossip is highly infectious. Suppose I come to my senses. Suppose I realize the evil I am doing by gossiping and want to undo or repair the harm. There is no way I can erase the harm I have done. I cannot go around and wipe off the dirt I have cast on someone’s reputation. I cannot put out the fire I have ignited, which by now has become a conflagration and is raging and spreading. The dirt I have thrown sticks. I am responsible for it.
Gossip not only damages the reputation of the victim, it also spoils the name of the one who gossips. If I gossip, others will soon realize that I have a poisonous tongue. This is why a number of gossips while seeming to have friends (people with whom they sit and chat/gossip) have no real friends – no one whom they can trust and no one who trusts them. They usually end up lonely and miserable.
Any bad habit damages the doer the most. Alcoholism or drug addiction damages the addict the most. Anger and revenge hurts the angry person the most. Similarly, the habit of gossiping will fill your mind with only negative images of people.
It is easier to pick up bad habits than good ones. Thus, the task of gossiping or, say, watching TV, is easier than speaking of people with respect or using one’s time well. If nothing worthwhile grips your mind, if you don’t have a stimulating habit like reading or writing, or art or philanthropy, if you have not cultivated the habit of learning new things, then one of the easiest ways to fill your time is by gossiping. You can watch people, you can talk about people, and you can find faults with people. Gossip is simply an epidemic of sorts.
You may have heard the saying, ‘Small minds focus on people, the average minds focus on events, and big minds focus on issues.’ Thus, if my mind and heart are big, a huge human tragedy – say, the suicide of 1500 farmers or the death of so many people from flood – will grip my attention and move me to do something about it. If I‘m a mediocre person, my conversation will be about which country would win the forthcoming cricket world cup in England, or when the next capital bandh call by a powerful local outfit would be. And if I‘m small-minded, I will just be interested in talking about the neighbour who owns a new car, or who is getting a transfer, or who’s going around with a new girlfriend, etc.
Shrewd and malicious persons will bring in others’ failures into conversations with apparent concern. They will pretend to be concerned, but they are actually not. They enjoy talking ill of others, even though they may appear concerned. They are dangerous. The one who sounds sweet but spreads poison about others is most likely to do the same about you in your absence.
Those who have the most skeletons stacked in their closets are the ones most likely to blame others and speak ill of them. The best persons are the least likely to gossip.
I’ll conclude with the statement that god has given me life, health, maybe a little bit of knowledge, too, and all other gifts to live with. He did not create me to do harm to others and leave a desolate and bitter trail of destruction behind me. Probably, god has given us birth on this Earth to make it a better place to live in.
So, let us build, not destroy. Let us cultivate a garden, not a garbage dump. Let us refrain from malice towards others. Say no to gossip.