by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
People talk. We all do it. It isn’t however until you hear of them talking about you that the smarting topic purchases any particular weight. Talking about you behind your back adds all the more kindling to the ignition. How an aspirate loves an audience! Lord it over the down-trodden fellow!
What is it that apparently legitimizes our wounding comments about others? Are we better than they? Have they fallen so far below the line of buoyancy as to entitle us to remark liberally upon their dissolution? Are we somehow flawlessly positioned to comment evocatively upon their feebleness?
There is a sobering theory that we see in others what we see in ourselves, a theme which reminds us that the business of destroying others should be approached with some caution. More often than not the sabered chap is the shadowy image of one’s self, the fearful object of one’s own nightmares, parental limitations and societal circumscriptions of behaviour.
Yet there are those who seek to elevate themselves by standing on others. Some people are, in a word, just too thoughtless to appreciate what they are unconsciously saying about themselves. Surely thriving upon the deprecation of others is not what any thinking person would call either useful or entertaining.
Yet the resourcefulness and cunning which goes into damning others is boundless. Often the effort is guided by a determination to market not so much the default of the damned but rather one’s own agenda for advancing by contrast something which we consider laudable in ourselves. Fallout between partners of any description (spousal, companions or commercial) is particularly susceptible to these types of swipes and snipes. Once you’re committed to the tactic its consummation is as inevitable as any mindless battle. No amount of rationality or responsible behaviour seems capable of derailing the parties from their collision course.
The criticism of others is not without its prurient interest. Entire Hollywood movies have been given over shamelessly to the subject, though to the credit of the filmmakers it is customary that in the end the subjugated personality rises as the ultimate hero. For those of us less proximate to Los Angeles, the undertaking of gossip (such a seemingly innocuous word for poison) has often a less happy conclusion. In real life, the cultivation of hard words about others seldom ends with smiling faces all round though it is nonetheless a preoccupation in which many eagerly participate. Gossip is flippantly dismissed as the rough and tumble of daily living. For the politician and others in public office, for example, it is generally accepted that mudslinging goes with the territory. For those public personages, they might as well proclaim themselves a dart board. It seldom helps to recall that it is the privilege of the masses to mock their betters.
There are some indeed who, being clever and mischievous enough to fathom the blood-sport allure of criticism, make a game of it by deceivingly enticing another to launch into a full-blown assault upon some common acquaintance, only to punctuate the invective by demurely adding, “Funny, they always said the nicest things about you!”
If you have read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, you surely know that he counsels roundly against any indulgence in the affairs of others, an indulgence which like any other sensory affection merely ties man to the pain of the material world. He reminds us that in view of how short it is between birth and dissolution, we haven’t time for such occupation. This broader view of the world fosters a collectivist approach rather than having an individualist perspective. Perhaps we have more in common with others than we care to admit.