Is there anything more immediately disturbing than hearing that someone’s been talking about you behind your back? What did they say? Why did they say it? But wait… why do we care so much any of this?
This episode is all about gossip and reputation; if you should care what other people say about you; and whether keeping some things secret from the world is ever a good idea. Letter 44, for once, has a decent title: ‘On the Relativity of Fame’. Because everything to do with your personality is in the eye of the beholder (and that includes yours, too).
Seneca knows what Lucilius has been up to thanks to the Roman grapevine, but he warns his mentee not to dwell. It can be exciting to learn that anyone gives enough of a damn to talk about you, but it only makes a difference in life if it’s happening in your back-yard. Gossip in Rome doesn’t mean much if you live hundreds of miles away, but Seneca warns that toxic gossip from the people in your immediate circle can spell disaster. All the same, is 99% of gossip really dangerous, or is it just our over-sensitive egos getting their knickers in a twist?
Needless to say this rapidly leads us to talk about sex, which remains the hotbed (literally) of so much gossip and censure in our lives. Why does that happen in a modern world where there’s so much less on the line – pregnancy, disease, property alliances – compared to Seneca’s day?
Seneca seems to think that the only real solution is to live a completely virtuous life, because people are always somehow going to find out what you’re up to. But we don’t think that’s quite the right take. This isn’t about doing what society thinks you should do – no, it’s about not doing things that you wouldn’t want discovered. Live by your own values, so that even if people try to shame you for it, it simply washes off your back like so much KY Jelly.
All the same, some actions and habits really aren’t relevant knowledge for other people in the world. We don’t need to live as though the door to our private lives is always wide open, and repressing ourselves to fit the norm is a sure-fire recipe for suffering.
There’s another trap waiting for us here, too. Many people struggle with the idea of ‘growing up’, thinking that it means disowning parts of their lives as they go along, trying to tell a completely unrealistic story of consistency from birth to death. ‘That wasn’t me!’ they cry, as though their past actions are the same as their current identity. But that’s not how life works: we can’t meld all our actions into some kind of single, indivisible identity statement, or we’d never be able to grow, change and develop.
Somehow this also leads us into a discussion about sex changes and how we think we’d feel if we were in the ‘wrong’ body; Jon also shares gossip-ready stories about gay saunas and trying his hand at online cam shows; and Andrea plans his life as a really excellent woman.
- The problems with gay marriage
- Do you need the body of a woman to be a woman?
- What about your parents are you unconsciously rebelling against?
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- The disturbing congressional run of Nathan Larson