Stupid people say, "If you have something bad to say about me, say it to my face." Only a stupid person would court criticism. Why would I want someone to say something bad about me to my face? I prefer that people say nice things to me. Who cares if they don't mean it? If Bernie Madoff spent his life not stealing people's money -- but he didn't really "mean" it... well, I think his investors could live with that.
As responsible human beings, there are bad things in the world of that we should be aware of: poverty, illness, Miley Cyrus expressing her sexuality on stage. But I don't need to know that my acquaintances are commenting on my lifestyle in judgmental ways. I'm aware that this is probably happening, but I don't care. It's not important. I'm aware that old people are having sex, too... but I don't want to be in the same room when it's going on.
Actually, people aren't just offended that negative comments are being said in their absence. Rather, people don't want anything said about them when they're not in the room. "Don't talk about me behind my back." But you're not here right now. Should we put you on speaker phone?
What if we just think bad things about you behind your back? Would that be okay?
It's time to eliminate the self-righteous, fake-indignation of "don't talk about me behind my back" from our culture. Instead, let's acknowledge and embrace human nature. As a species, we naturally feel happiness when we're amused, we biologically feel fear when we're threatened, we innately feel boredom when we watch soccer... and we inherently like to talk about other people. It's what we do. If you spent your life alone on a tiny island, you'd ask the rocks, "Hey, is it just me, or have you noticed that the tree has gained a few coconuts?"
People equate "talking about people" with "gossip." And we say that gossip is bad. The Bible condemns gossip. Although in Leviticus 3:17, the Bible also prohibits the eating of fat. And plenty of religious people are dining at Arby's.
By definition, "gossip" means "rumor of a sensational nature." If that's true, then the cable news networks are gossip channels. The political pundits offer their opinions on stories before the facts are known. But in the world of serious journalism, this isn't called "gossip." Instead, they use words like "conjecture" and "speculation." If someone awkwardly confronts you about something you said, respond with this statement: "I wasn't talking about you behind your back; I was just speculating."
Gossip has an unseemly connotation. This is probably because the word itself is connected to women. Hundreds of years ago, female friends were called "gossips." (I looked it up.) And in society, what is feminine tends to spark a negative reaction. I mean, have you ever noticed the irrational hatred some men have towards Sex and the City? Geez, it's just a show; it's not trying to castrate you. (Well, except maybe Miranda.) And so gossip is wrong. If we lived in a world without women, there would be no such thing as gossip columnists. Instead, they'd be called "shooting the breeze" columnists. And TMZ would be a popular conjecture site.
Nevertheless, society incorrectly refers to "gossip" as any dialogue in which people are talking about other people. But gossip really implies that you're making stuff up, or that you're passing around unfounded rumors as fact. I don't gossip. When I'm hanging out with my friends, we don't make up lies about our other friends. The things we say are truthful. Our other friends -- whichever ones happen to not be there at that moment -- really, seriously are that f*cked up.
If we couldn't psychoanalyze our friends behind their backs, what else would we have to talk about? I mean, have you ever spent an entire lunch with people talking about global warming? It gets pretty dull. And the Hooters waitresses look at you like you're pretentious.
There are sad stories about teenagers anonymously writing viciously hurtful things about their peers, on-line. But that's different. That's cowardly bullying of helpless victims with the intention of dehumanizing them. But that's different from our innocent fascination with other people, and our interest in hearing what other people have to say about those mutual friends and acquaintances and classmates and co-workers. This is not a weakness. When you only talk about yourself, boring everyone else in the room -- that's a weakness... unless you have some really juicy information about yourself... that the rest of us can talk about later, when you're not around.
On Jersey Shore, sometimes a cast member would get angry upon discovering that another character on the show was "talking sh*t" about him. Do you think the characters on Jersey Shore were aware that the entire country was taking sh*t about them? Frankly, I don't want to live in a universe where anyone is saying anything good about Pauly D.
Even the dullards who complain about "people talking about them behind their back" talk about celebrities and politicians and public figures in the media. By definition, if you're talking about media figures, you're talking about people behind their back. I mean, Jay Z and Beyonce don't know you're talking about them. But I suspect that Beyonce is okay with it. Not sure about Jay Z, though. You might want to be careful.
I used to talk a lot about George W. Bush behind his back. I was not a fan of his policies or his politics. And if I ever get the chance to meet him, I'll look him in the eye, furrow my brow, and I'll say, "It's an honor to meet you, Mr. President." That's the respectful thing to do.
People are talking about you behind your back. Yes -- you! And it's not just your friends. The people you met at that party last night are talking about you behind your back. People you went to high school are talking about you. People you dated years ago are talking about you. And, yes, sometimes the stuff they're saying is kind of critical. And sometimes the stuff they're saying is inaccurate, or it's hypocritical, or it's unfair. But don't get all weird about it. This is a good thing. This means that you exist. This means you count. This means you matter. As my honest friend Mike often says, "I don't care if people are talking about me behind my back, as long as they're talking about me." Besides, when people are talking about you behind your back, the stuff they say isn't legally binding.
If you don't have the guts to say something bad about me to my face, then do it behind my back. In fact, I'd prefer it that way.
note: So I have a bit of a writing dilemma here. People don't all share the same back. I should probably write it as "I like talking about people behind their backs." But in actual speech, people usually go with the singular "back." So I'll go with that. However, I'll take your grammar thoughts into consideration... unless you're mean about it.