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Story Sharing: Is It Gossip or Concern?

gossip vs. concern when talking about othersYou can find Pennie sharing regularly at The Accidental Blogger. Find more from Pennie on friendships and relationships here at Midlife Boulevard, as well. 

Sharing can be caring.

Over the last year I’ve found myself on the receiving end of text from friends that begin with statements like: “I have some distressful news . . .” The bad news unfolded into stories of doctors, hospitals, and many scary procedures. These stories belonged to my friends, not to me, but I shared them. I shared them with other friends – of mine – of the storyteller – but sometimes I shared these stories that didn’t belong to me outside of my circle of friends. I believe that I shared the stories responsibly.

But how can I be sure?

Normally, I would not ask myself this question, but a couple of the most recent distressful-news stories were shared in less than favorable ways. So I had to ask myself: “Am I over-sharing?”

Honestly, I don’t think I’m alone in this. We receive bad news from a friend (cancer, divorce, collapse, death, accidents, drug problems), and the wildfire of story-sharing breaks out. Unlike yesteryear when stories moved slowly as they navigated landlines, rotary phones, and handwritten letters, today’s stories are fanned by cellphones and social media, and the wildfire engulfs everyone in an instant.

Most often, the sharing is genuine. It’s done as a loving effort to let other friends and the community know so that a support network can kick in and help those in need. In less elevated iterations, the sharing is simply gossip. In its most banal form, the sharing is derisive, a weapon to undermine those who are already suffering.

But what about that place between genuine sharing and gossip? You have been there if you ever asked yourself: “Why did I share this with them?” or “Would my friend be upset that I told them?”

My midlife throttle is wide open, and, unfortunately, distressful news is the new normal.

I’ve established some guidelines for myself as I navigate those moments when I feel compelled to share a friend’s story. Before I unveil them, a tiny confession for you:

  • Being the first to inform another friend about the news can be oddly satisfying. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.
  • Not telling a friend’s story can sometimes be less genuine than sharing it.

Now, remember, genuine vs. gossip, vs. weapon. Along those lines, I have roughed out basic levels of sharing to use as a guideline.

  1. Sharing helps my friend. Does it help spread the news, set up a support network, and so on? If yes, share. If not, next question.
  2. Sharing helps me. Is it on my my mind, does it impact my performance or mood, am I expanding the prayer circle, can I share it without violating my friend’s trust or privacy? If yes, share. If not, next question.
  3. Sharing is part of a casual conversation outside of the circle that includes my friend. At this point, the only relevant question is: “Does it violate my friend’s trust or privacy?” If yes, don’t share.

For me, there are no more questions. If you made it this far and think there should be more, these are the definite don’ts:

  1. Sharing is just an anecdote. If it is just gossip, don’t share.
  2. Sharing is an excuse. If this is a way to get out of work or an obligation, an excuse to ask for money, do not share.
  3. Sharing is a weapon. Wow. You’re not a friend.

The golden rule applies. Your friend is distressed. She or he needs a good friend. Be that friend to them. Share responsibly.

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

Pennie Nichols

I have long been an editor, writer for hire, and textbook author. I wrote my way into a freelance career and suddenly I’m here, with socks covered in the bothersome burrs of freelancers and middle-aged women. I am not weary of writing. Every day is a new opportunity to define, invent, and discover myself through words. Words are the tools that help me dig deep into my experiences and relationships, the energy that draws me out into light and understanding. Through sharing my experiences and words, I hope to connect, to share a little light.

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Beth Cooper

Wednesday 30th of March 2016

I really liked your guideline, Penni, honestly very nice post!

Carol Graham

Tuesday 29th of March 2016

You make some legitimate points and it is a subject that needs to be addressed. I have often caught myself wanting to share something and then realized my agenda was not in my friend's best interest. I believe we have to make a concentrated effort to share responsibly each and every time. Great post.


Tuesday 29th of March 2016

Thanks, Carol.

Beth Havey

Tuesday 29th of March 2016

Love this. There is so much about SHARING these days, that when we go to write something or even open our mouths we need to THINK about what it is we are sharing. Responsibility, yes, that's the key. Beth


Tuesday 29th of March 2016

I agree, Beth. So many times that first step (think!) is left out.


Tuesday 29th of March 2016

A very good way to evaluate the best use of information. Your approach is compassionate and thoughtful.


Tuesday 29th of March 2016

Thanks, Betsy. Fine lines can be managed with thoughtfulness.

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