The Man and the Feather Pillow
There is a story in Jewish tradition about a man who loved to gossip. He constantly spread rumors and salacious details about his neighbors. He enjoyed knowing secrets and sharing them. In the process, he hurt many people. One day, for whatever reason, he felt guilty for what he had done. He went to his Rabbi and asked the Rabbi what he could to rectify his gossiping. The Rabbi said, “Go and get a feather pillow.” The man went and found a feather pillow. Then the Rabbi said, “Go to the tallest building you can find, rip open the pillow and let the feathers fly.” The man did so. He returned to Rabbi who told him, “Now go and retrieve every feather.” The rabbi explained, “This is how hard it will be to repair all the gossip you have shared.”
I have a friend who loves to gossip. And even though I try not to gossip, I seem to be quite open to hearing what he knows. All of us potentially play our roles.
In Jewish tradition, gossip is considered an act of robbery. You are robbing another person of their reputation. When you gossip you are not just sharing information with someone else. You are hurting three people. You hurt the person you are gossiping about; you hurt yourself by becoming a gossip; you hurt the person to whom you are gossiping by making them an accomplice to gossip.
In Judaism talking about another person behind his or her back is only permitted if the discussion centers on how to help someone in trouble. While some gossiping can be harmless and frivolous, many times, intentionally or not, it ends up causing injury.
What makes gossip so attractive? We feel powerful and important to have information unavailable to anyone else. And we love the attention we get when we share what we know. We especially enjoy gossiping about the wealthy and powerful in our communities because it convinces us that they are just as human as we are.
And one more thing: You know when you tell someone something juicy and you say, “Don’t tell anyone.” Do not assume that what you say will be kept in confidence. People forget where they heard what they heard. And they may also enjoy spreading the news to their own confidants.
Here is the truth. We have the capacity to help and hurt each other every day. So, the next time you feel like gossiping or someone is sharing gossip with you, think of the man and the feather pillow.