If I’m really honest, and I am, I have engaged in shit talking, and I have even engaged in shit talking and enjoyed it. I would even say that, at least on one occasion, saying nasty or even simply critical things about somebody else left me feeling better. At least temporarily.
Also, it’s not something I really enjoy, something I have ever been completely comfortable with, or something I’m going to do moving forward.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Why do we talk shit? A lot of reasons. Sometimes it feels good, at least in the moment, maybe sometimes we think it makes ourselves look better (if only to ourselves), it can be a way to bond (and this is a serious thing: people tend not to trust people who won’t engage in shit talk), and sometimes, maybe we just don’t have anything else to say. Sometimes we just feel like crap and because of all of the reasons listed above, that’s the easiest way for it to come out, and sometimes, much of the time I think, it’s something we do out of habit.
We are watching the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and I can tell you it’s been a long road for me to get to the point where I can admit I’m basically her. The show jokes about fifteen years living in a bunker and totally cut off from the rest of the world being very much like growing up in the Midwest and in some ways, that’s exactly right, or at least it was for me, back in the nineties before we used textspeak and snapchat and tinder.
All of that is to say, I imagine there are other, more devious reasons people talk shit. I am willing to admit I don’t understand them and I don’t want to. I like to play chess with real chess pieces, not with humans.
Back to the point.
I don’t count confiding in another person as shit talking under certain circumstances. If the goal of the conversation is to accomplish something, like figuring out how to help the person who is the subject of the conversation, or how to avoid similar consequences ourselves, or explaining our lives and how we went from Point A to Point B, or even just for moral support after some wrong is committed against us and we are unsure how to move forward.
When there is no real purpose, or even just a loose purpose, it’s probably shit talking.
Here are some examples:
1. My best friend cries on my shoulder because she found out her husband is having an affair. Not shit talking. I would even allow, under these particular circumstances, a few unnecessary jabs at husband and mistress as permissible shit talking, but only once, over a bottle of very good wine. I’m not sure if that’s a joke.
2. My husband comes home after a long day at the office and tells me about how a lawyer on the other side pulled some kind of ridiculous stunt that means our plans for that night are totally blown. Not shit talking.
3. My neighbor stops by to tell me our other neighbor has ugly shoes. Shit talking.
4. One of the mothers at school tells me one of the other mothers is building a pool even though she knows they are broke and, ugh, pools are so dangerous. Shit talking. Compare and contrast this to when Mom A says all of the above and proposed an intervention because Mom B is in some kind of crisis. Not shit talking.
5. Family member calls to say some other family member is divorcing and his children are out of control and it’s mostly because his wife is crazy but also because he didn’t make the parenting choices he should have. Shit talking.
6. Saying certain political candidates are bad for this country. Not shit talking. Also, I’m going to grant a “public figure” and “public issue” exception so that some shit talking is permitted in this area. I can do that because these are my rules.
I want to feel good and I want people to like me and trust me. I also have real things to say about real issues (anybody following the New York primary or the major changes in the refugee camps?) and I’m not going to engage in this kind of thing any more.
If you’re engaging in this kind of chatter and telling yourself you are somehow helping, consider whether your time and energy would be better spent speaking with the subject directly or simply keeping your mouth shut and minding your own business. The answer is yes, and we are all living in glass houses.