WHETHER WE ADMIT IT OR NOT, a lot of us love a bit of gossip, but a little less of us who love to gossip also love to talk about people behind their back, so to speak. Out of this smaller number, still a smaller group likes to provoke what we call “intrigues” or negative news, usually unsubstantiated, between a person or group of persons.
A newcomer in our work site started her stint with us on the wrong foot, ordering people around and criticizing the way we did things without bothering to find out the backstories of our site. In an attempt to stir up things and shift the paradigm, so to speak, she ended up getting a lot of “pushback” (resistance) to the extent that a couple of mini-confrontations had ensued.
In the meantime, something happened to me that I hadn’t experienced in my nearly 10 years at the work site. Every time I was out of earshot of the person concerned, or every time I had a chance to speak confidentially, I talked about this person, the newcomer, in a not-so-flattering manner.
Unsurprisingly, I found colleagues who after initial reservations, were more than willing to discuss the said topic / person with me. At first we limited our verbal exchanges on the issue of the person’s comments on how things were done, but inevitably we started talking about the person herself, bordering on the personal. It didn’t help that this person was so obstinate and stubborn (at the beginning), threw out all alternative suggestions regarding her issues, and her mildly undiplomatic way of communication.
in the end, fences were mended and compromises were reached. It was obvious that the newcomer’s heart was in the right place, but that in her intensity and zeal, she rubbed people the wrong way.
What struck me was the way it was so easy for me (and by extension, the rest of my co-workers) to gossip and talk about this person behind her back. The word “backstab” is a bit strong, but I have no doubt that if we hadn’t met halfway, we would’ve started on that track.
I thought up a few reasons why I and my kalahi (people in my race) so readily indulge in this kind of behavior, without excuses but at the same time trying to review it in context:
Filipinos are not confrontational. We hate confrontation. We keep our punches and jabs subtle, via “death by a thousand cuts” but are so sickly sweet when facing our social rivals and antagonists. In my example above, the mini-confrontation, which happily solved our problem, was initiated by a Pacific Islander who had no qualms about giving it straight to the person involved. No sugarcoating, but at the same time no hurts and insults. I would find it very difficult to talk to a person, male OR female and tell him/her my problems with him/her. A lot of New Zealanders don’t have that problem, fortunately in this case.
And because we are not confrontational, when we don’t like a person’s actions (or maybe that person himself / herself), we don’t do the logical thing and go to that person and start complaining. We go to the next person, friend, actually any other person and starting venting about the person, who usually has no idea on how badly we feel in the first place. In fact, we talk to ANYBODY who will listen, anybody that is, except the person concerned. Am I making sense?
We need a pressure valve for our emotions. Now, as said earlier, we like to work ourselves up over a trivial matter like the way one person does things. But because we don’t actually do anything constructive like talking to that person, the latter isn’t expected to change or improve his/her behavior. The result is, we just go nuts and keep getting crazier until we can’t keep our emotions in check. The next time we encounter that person? We go ballistic at the slightest provocation, and we become the bad guy.
To avoid this, we need to regulate and manage the pressure building up inside us, and the best way to do this is to TALK about it. We find like-minded persons, usually those who are also annoyed and stressed by said person (who until this point STILL doesn’t know what’s happening). The natural step is we start talking about this person, whether we mean well or not, and because we release such tension and find people who share our concerns, we somewhat feel better. Or at least, not as bad as before. And that’s why we talk about their people behind their backs. For emotional self-preservation, and equally positive reasons.
Ultimately, we want something positive to happen. We hate what the person/s are doing, we want to do something crazy just to get back at that person, but deep down we just want the questionable behavior to stop. or at least make some sort of compromise with that person.
Perhaps it’s clash of values, religions or traditions. Perhaps the person isn’t aware of the sensitivities of the place. Perhaps the persons concerned just need to be more considerate, and a little reminder of this would go a long way.
This is what chismis, backbiting and intriguing does. On the surface it looks catty and shallow, but actually it is a cry for help from the originator, wanting people to take notice and somehow carry forward the message to the intended recipient, to eventually realize the bother he/she is causing and to stop said behavior.
My story above had a happy ending. The newcomer realized she wanted results, but not at the expense of feelings hurt and negative feelings created. She’s more diplomatic in the way she criticizes, and takes into account everything before saying something.
In this case at least, the chismis was worth it.
thanks for reading!