And what is Right Speech? Abstaining from telling lies or deceiving, from slander and divisive speech, from rude, impolite or abusive language, and from idle chatter and gossip: This is called Right Speech. If your speech is not useful or beneficial it is best to keep silent.
-The Pali Cannon
I've written before on the subject of Right Speech – namely as it relates to bitching and complaining: something waiters are exceptionally good at. If complaining is the number one pastime of service staff, then gossip and shit talking are probably numbers two and three, respectively. Especially when it's slow, and servers have little to do but hang out in the side station waiting for tables to arrive (and therefore no customers yet to complain about), conversation inevitably turns to who did what with whom, or what an idiot/weirdo/a-hole so-and-so is.
Not that this is unique to service world: gossip and shit talking can certainly be found in all jobs in all walks of life. (Indeed, gossip, insulting and judging others can all be found in Donald Brown's List of Cultural Universals. Shit talking, I think, can be inferred from the other three). Something about the service industry, in particular, though – maybe the stress, the age of staff, maybe the slight tendency towards inter-office “romance” I don't know. What I do know is that it's extremely difficult to get through a shift without finding yourself drawn into a conversation saying something about someone else who isn't there.
One of my latest goals, both in work and in life, is to not say anything behind someone's back I wouldn't say to their face. If I'm having a problem with a co-worker, then it's up to me to either talk with him/her directly, or just shut up about it. Bitching about them behind their back may temporarily help me to “let off some steam,” but it generally only fans the flames of my negativity even more, and further entrenches it, not removes it. Also, I probably wouldn't like it if people were talking that way about me, so that whole stupid “Golden Rule” thing kind of comes into play. [Side Note here: part of all this is accepting that people are probably gossiping and talking shit about me behind my back as well. And you know, that's okay. Lord knows I give them enough ammunition].
It's a tall order but, as with pretty much everything in the Buddhist world view – the proscription is not intended as a moral judgement – that I'm a “bad” person for gossiping (again, it's a human universal), but rather as an observation that the behavior inevitably leads to my own suffering, not someone else's. When I talk about someone behind their back I'm, first of all, instantly creating the potential for the added drama that will ensue if and when said person finds out (which, knowing how waitstaff like to gossip, is probably inevitable). Add on to that, that now whenever I'm around that person I'm kind of worrying in the back of my mind if they know what I said or what would happen if they found out.... But mainly, my doing this only serves to reinforce the idea of separation between self and other, a division the ego loves but which ultimately takes me away from wholeness, equanimity, and all that other inner-peace crap.
But that's thing. It's not crap. It's actually very real. By making a decision not to engage – again not judging anyone for it, because I do it all the time – I inevitably end up free from a lot of bullshit and useless drama. Which, I know, sounds weird – the ego feeds off drama, craves it. I've always thought that a life without drama sounds kind of, well, boring. Drama equals excitement and passion and lust for life and all that great stuff. Except, it doesn't. Excitement and passion and lust for life are all there for the taking, and when you cut away the drama from the equation, they actually become a lot more enjoyable.
All that aside, did you hear about __ and ___ in the walk-in? And God, does ___ have his head up his ass or what?