Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Burden of Workplace Gossip

Among the most challenging parts of any practice is living what you say you believe in, especially given that most of us do not operate in isolation from the rest of the world by living in a monastery. Most workplaces are rife with the "opportunity" to speak poorly of other individuals (gossip), an act which is clearly not part of any "right action," but is also something that most (including myself) have occasionally participated in. (Here, I am considering conversing as an action, though it is also inherently results in "speech.") Whether discussing someone else's work ethic or fashion sense behind their backs, or simply commenting on what they eat, the gateways to speaking ill of others are prevalent in any workplace.

Even when one (okay, "I") am aware that I am doing so, and despite consciously believing I am putting forth effort to resist, it is often to easy to succumb to the allure of contributing to gossip. This is not to say that the act of criticism is of some damning nature, but ANY gossip goes against the idea of "right action," simply because it is harmful to the character and person hood of another.

Once I recognize the error of my ways I will often acknowledge my personal wrong-doing and seek to make-up for it somehow either by apologizing or seeking to dispel the negativity I have cast on some through a positive act. Sometimes, though, I can't shake the feeling of having done wrong. But, I can't live in the past as it only serves to keep me from being in the present.

The traditional Buddhist story, "The Burden," illustrates the impact of not letting go. It is also a personal favorite:
Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the road sides. At one place a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to a her lifted her in his arms and left her on the other side of the road, and continued his way to the monastery.

In the evening the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, "Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman?"

The elder monk answered, "Yes, brother."

Then the younger monk asks again, "But, then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside?"

The elder monk smiled at him and told him, "I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her."
Of course, "letting go" should not be interpreted as "it's okay to act wrongly, just 'forget' about it and all is well." The art of letting go is not about absolution or acceptance of wrong, but rather part of the larger, complicated picture of attempting to live rightly. Naturally, it is better to learn from past issues, make stronger choices regarding behavior in the future, ultimately resulting in the strength to avoid workplace gossip entirely.

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