As an Indian Gujarati, I grew up watching Hindi movies depicting stereotypical gender roles and personalities such as: the domineering mother-in-law who believes no woman is good enough for her son; the dutiful daughter-in-law submissive, obedient and never speaking out for her rights; the interfering aunt who makes it her business to know everyone else’s; the son with no real backbone who just wants to be adored by his wife and mothered by his mother; and either the quiet and deferential father-in-law or the father-in-law who rules the household with an iron fist and against whom no-one can speak.
And the typecasts go on.
is TV an influencer?
This isn’t a one woman crusade against the Indian film or TV series industry, however I do believe that given its pseudo worshipped status amongst the Asian community, it has a role to play in how it depicts the various familial characters on screen, and the typical conflict and conspiracies which transpire between the personalities.
In a study of the effect of TV violence on children’s behaviour, Palermo* concluded that: “…it is not the programming per se that creates violence, but that the violent programs may influence negatively those individuals who are already violence-prone…”.
Taking the essence of this, would it not be fair then to say that if you were gossip prone and regularly following those TV series which promote patriarchy, familial infighting and power struggles, then you’re more likely to be negatively influenced and exude those same qualities in your own daily life?
keeping up with the Patels
Growing up, I noticed that in my community there was always a lot of interest in what others were doing; be it comparing one’s station in life or their children’s academic performance. The effect of this was that others’ successes became the yardstick against which one had to measure up to show that they were equal, good enough or worthy to be in the same company.
Factors for comparison between families could be anything tangible such as money in the bank, property owned, accolades achieved, countries travelled to, parties hosted – if it was measurable, it counted – and was talked about.
The problem with this is that the bar isn’t static; people keep achieving things, buying things, travelling to new places. As such, many of us Asians are constantly striving, never being content with what we’ve achieved and where we are in life, because it doesn’t fare as well compared to some other person in the community.
Growing up, it was rare to see or hear someone simply being happy for another at their success – and leaving it at that. It always became the gauge for the next endeavour.
I recall as a child being unjustifiably chastised that so-and-so’s child had achieved 10 A’s at GCSE and am I really doing enough studying to ensure that I bring home the same results?
It was like being in a race – I an unwitting participant – and every time I approached the finish line, it moved.
What is it that stops us from simply celebrating another’s success without immediately employing it as a barometer to measure how we’re doing? And why do we look for the negative in every success story – and then talk about that with others?
Blogger Angi* says:
“… When I’m suffering a scarcity in the fulfillment department, seeing others thriving can sometimes create a twinge of jealousy. That’s a subtle tap on the shoulder for me, a reminder that it’s time to search out more purpose in my life.”
“People might gossip for a variety of reasons. Sharing negative information about others can be a method some individuals use to feel better about themselves… Sometimes gossiping can also be a way to get attention—knowing something no one else knows about another person can make a person feel important. In some cases, people may engage in gossip in order to feel accepted. If other people in a social group are spreading gossip, it may feel necessary to participate in order to fit in.”
Could it be that inherently, we feel a sense of unworthiness or a lack of purpose in our lives and the only way to reconcile this with ourselves is to look outwardly and bring others down to our miserable soul level? Is this so inextricably weaved into our culture that we don’t know how to function, i.e. how and what to say to people, if we don’t have gossip as a common denominator as the basis of our conversations?
If this is true, then it’s time to take stock and change gears if we want to leave behind us a culture which is all embracing, unified and wholehearted.
Growing up, I recall an animated aunt (who doesn’t?) who’d circle the room at weddings and download exactly what was happening in everyone’s lives; where the kids were studying (and what, after all, media/business/travel studies weren’t proper subjects), how many bedrooms their house had, what holidays they’d been on, extracting every bit of information which could be cooked up into salacious gossip and then redistributed to listening ears.
There was a running (not publicised) joke amongst us that if there was any key announcement to be made such as a birth, death or marriage, one needn’t inform people individually, simply let this aunt know and the news will have spread to all and sundry by nightfall.
Human nature is such that people love to talk about themselves so when my aunt was providing her undivided attention, people wouldn’t think twice about responding to her intense and persistent questioning.
It was only after she’d left the conversation that they’d realise they’d imparted information their own extended family didn’t yet know and that apart from learning that the aunt’s son was marrying a doctor (“by God, they’re so wealthy; they live in a six bedroom house in Windsor, far out of our humble league”) they hadn’t gleaned anything about her family’s movements.
And then after all the mingling, the well wishing of the bride and groom and goodbyes to everyone who should know that she’s now leaving, she’d get in the car and and before the car exited the car park, the post mortem would start. It would go something like this:
“Did you see Chanchal Masi? She’s walking with a stick now. Her legs must be giving up on her. Anyway, she’s 72 now so she’s had a good life if it all ends tomorrow. God, Bharthi has put on so much weight! She had her baby three years ago so she should have lost it by now. After I had Manisha, I was back in my clothes within six months! And Harsha’s son is going to Oxford university this year. Funny how she was less quick to talk about her other son who was recently cautioned on drugs charges I heard. And that Magan Kaka’s son has bought a villa in Spain. His dad must have left him a good inheritance to suddenly be able to afford that. I remember when he got married, Magan Kaka only gave saris to Kaki’s sisters, no laani* or gifts for anyone else. It’s all people could talk about for ages; doesn’t bother me in the slightest, just what everyone else was saying. I tried to tell them these things aren’t important but you know how people can be…”.
And so on, recounting every last detail of the conversations had and her take on things in a one way diatribe all the way from Birmingham back to London.
who’s gossiping? we’re just sharing information
Those of you from a similar background can possibly identify corresponding members of your own family who resemble my late aunt. In fact, there are some who expect and even consider it endearing when they hear their elders rambling on about others in this fashion.
Some consider it a facet of our community – but I reject this.
Often people engage in this type of talk to feel good about themselves. But this isn’t true contentment; it’s oneupmanship at play and it’s superficial, so is quickly displaced compared to true happiness which yields “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” (Sonja Lyubomirsky*).
For the Asian community to be a close knit one which our children will want to be a part of, we need to understand that inane and purposeless gossip is mindless and damaging.
We need to demonstrate and inspire our children to commend others’ successes and genuinely be delighted for them without drawing any reflective interpretation on themselves or their own abilities.
Furthermore, we need to teach them to filter out and consciously reject idle chit chat about others. But it starts with us.
Situations don’t change, people do – through the choices that we make.
We are each the custodians of our culture; we can choose how we react to information and situations – and we can choose to change our emotional responses too. It’s not just me saying this; there is significant commentary from people who’ve studied this topic, about the difference we can make to ourselves and others by reframing how we react to situations.
The incredible writer, speaker and research professor Dr Brené Brown says:
“… A lot of times, we share things that are not ours to share as a way to hot wire connection with a friend, right? …Our closeness is built on talking bad about other people. You know what I call that? Common enemy intimacy.
What we have is not real. The intimacy we have is built on hating the same people, and that’s counterfeit. That’s counterfeit trust….”
By being more mindful when we speak and by consciously rejecting low level conversations about others, we can empower ourselves to feel healthier emotionally and psychologically as well as role model to those around us – young and old alike – what it means to be truly content and live in a positively charged state.
let’s be practical
“This is all very theoretical, how does this actually work in practice?” I hear you wondering. Here’s one suggestion, if someone starts tattling on about another to you, you can choose to:
- change the subject completely
- pick out the positives from what they’re saying and focus your discussion on those
- be bold enough to say it’s best not to talk about this because it’s nothing to do with you.
the BMW story
Not long back, my dad bumped into a family friend, Hansaben, whilst shopping for Indian groceries; he’d not seen her in about eight years. She and her husband had always been a quiet, salt of the earth couple and he received word that her husband had passed away last year. Hansaben exchanged a few words with my dad and then walked to her silver BMW 1 Series (latest reg) car. When recounting the interaction to me he said: “You should have seen that car, so beautiful and brand new. Bharatbhai must have had some good insurance policies to enable Hansaben to buy a BMW car!”.
Not wanting to instigate a conversation about what possible assets Bharatbhai may or may not have had here and in India, I replied “isn’t it lovely to see that since Bharatbhai’s passing, Hansaben has adapted to being independent and is shopping and managing all the things which he used to do. Well done to her”.
And that was literally the end of the conversation.
Gossip thrives when it has an active audience. But if the conditions aren’t present for it to grow, that is, if there’s no-one to entertain it and give it attention which enables it to spread, it’ll die its death swiftly.
be the change
“When words are both true and kind they can change the world” – Buddha
We’re so conscious about upgrading our technology; we need to ensure that we are also regularly checking in and upgrading ourselves; an internal audit where we question ourselves and our beliefs and check the needle is where we want it to be on our inner compass.
By doing this, we can consciously create a rich and wholesome culture for our children where they are fulfilled and energised by others’ accomplishments and where their own efforts are genuinely championed without worrying about how others may perceive or speak of them.
Now that’s something worth talking about.
laani = traditional gifts given to all guests at pre-wedding functions often comprising organza bags of mixed nuts or sweets, something for the home, saris, money or other tokens.
Palermo, G. B. (1995). Adolescent Criminal Behavior — Is TV Violence One of the Culprits? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 39(1), 11–22.
Angi (blogger): www.mindfulandmama.com/blog/2017/9/12/when-women-support-each-other-incredible-things-happen
Sonja Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher and author of The How of Happiness
Dr Brenè Brown, The Anatomy of Trust, speech transcript available on https://jamesclear.com/great-speeches/the-anatomy-of-trust-by-brene-brown
photo credit: ‘Gossip at the West Gate’ by cowyeow on www.flickr.com/photos/cowyeow/8061307642/in/photostream/