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Big, Bad Mouth: Why We Talk Sh*t and Other Mysteries

I have been a patron of Katy Bellote’s writing for years now.

“Writing hard and clear about what hurts”, she proclaims on her titular website, The Katy Project - an earnest reminder from author-extraordinaire Ernst Hemingway to be honest and vulnerable.

Katy does more than just write about what hurts - she weaves her words carefully, like the fine details on an Anthropologie purse you can presumably find her clutching as she frequents New York’s finest bars.

What is alluring about Katy Bellote’s style and brand - disseminated through Youtube, blog posts and a podcast - is that it is quite like the Anthropolgie experience - not touching a thing but coming out (of the store) with an idea, emotion or inspiration.

Her words are healing and what I reach to when I feel particularly distraught by a situation, person or place. Yet lately I couldn’t quite put my finger on what felt off. Everything ‘good’ had really been set into motion - a lofty internship the forthcoming summer, riveting classes, an encouraging entourage of professors, peers and mentors and a cascading list of lunch and dinner plans with interesting new acquaintances. And yet something felt alarmingly off.


Lately, I found myself with other people’s names in my mouth - big, bad, ugly sentences about others were strung in conversations for no particular reason other than the fact that we knew the victim in question. What I initially found solace in was knowing that it was commonplace. We’d all been there - we all ran our mouths - regardless of whether we liked to admit it or not.

In fact, Katy had pondered on one of her posts: “You’d be lying if you said that you have never, ever spoken about someone without their knowledge. Sometimes it happens without you even intending it to."

Her post was titled “Why We Talk Sh*t” and it was dated back to 2017. I scrolled through and curated the best bits that really set up the problem at hand.

“Why do we feel so personally offended by the actions of others when it has nothing to do with us?

She then helped clarify to even the faintest what the nuances of sh*t talking were -

“......there are different mediums in the art of talking sh*t— either to simply share unbiased information (“Did you hear that Rebecca got a nose job?”), formulate biased opinions on said information (“Did you hear that Rebecca got a nose job? Good for her, her old nose was hideous”), or downright rash comments about an individual (“Rebecca - She’s the WOAT.”). “

And why it occurred -

“A prominent reason why people feel the need to talk about others is rooted in our human desire to be “in the know” and let everyone else and their mother know that we are indeed “in the know.” We all love having information to share. Whether it’s tagging your friends in a relatable meme, or being the first to alert your group chat that the couple you’ve all been secretly obsessed with broke up, everyone loves to share."

“​Chances are, our names have all been in other people’s mouths at some point in time, without us even doing anything to provoke it. People who hardly know us have probably screenshotted our Instagrams to send in their group chats (“lol look at Katy, she thinks she’s soooooo coooool”) and some of them don’t even have an explicit reason why. I’ve learned that a person could hate your guts but still check your Instagram and Snapchat religiously.”

“Despite what’s been said about us, we’ll all be just fine. I promise. As the late Winston Churchill said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”


While Katy set up the problem perfectly, I felt unsatisfied with the solution. It wasn’t the answer that I was looking for and I only encountered more questions -

Why were we becoming bystanders?

Why did we condone sh*t talking?

And most importantly: when did I become a bystander?

You see, the idea that gossip or insults are morally wrong in the current social and political climate seems almost quaint. Tell-all talk shows, mud-slinging “news” shows or news articles, and so on, have led to a culture of derision, rife with cheap jokes and personal attacks. Making light of every insecurity and picking one another apart has become a fair game - because heck - there are multi-million dollar industries upheld by it.

What did ‘locker room’ talk really mean in the grand scheme of things? If you made a jab at an unknowing individual at the expense of a few laughs from your best buddies and street cred - did it really hurt anyone? That wasn’t your intention, right? You were simply earning a chuckle. Doing good. You’re a good person. Phew!

Some shrug their shoulders and say, well that’s life for you, and then go home and bad-mouth their sorority sister to their teammate, or their roommate to their classmate, and so on. The people who are supposed to love us and stand by us are now attacking us and maybe we’re even attacking them. Behind their backs, to their faces, it doesn’t matter.

Can’t relate? Never experienced it? Well, ask yourself this -

If you hear something about someone that causes you anxiety, feelings of guilt or shame, feelings of vengeance, etc., you might be listening to bad-mouthing.

If you talk about one person with another, are you talking with awareness? Are you sharing personal, humiliating, embarrassing, or shaming information even if you are right and your facts are correct? Do you want the listener to feel dislike, disgust, or disdain for the subject of your conversation? You might be engaging in bad-mouthing and not even know it.

And there are other times when you do know it. Vex King’s book “Good Vibes, Good Life” offers insight into the psyche behind negativity.

Hurt People Hurt Other People

The way people act towards the outside world illustrates what's going on in their inner world. What people say about you says more about them than about you. When others judge you, they reveal themselves. They show their insecurities, needs, mindset, attitude, history, and limitations.

It then becomes a domino effect of hurt. All too often people that aren't in a good mood because they've been hurt by someone else who wasn't in a good mood. These new people then hurt other people and on it goes.

Disliking Difference

People tend to feel drawn towards individuals who resemble them in some way. This is demonstrated by a neuro-linguistic programming technique (NLP) called mirroring which shows that mimicking an individual's behaviours encourage them to like you.

So if you're generally loud, bubbly and full of life and you come to cross someone similar you’d think they’re pretty cool too. And if their speech patterns, body language, and tone are similar to yours, you might think “You know what, there’s something about this person I really like”. That is because they're just like you.

We can also assume the opposite to be true. People tend to not feel an affinity towards individuals that are different from them and someone different from you might think that you come across as a bit strange or out there. Ultimately they won't understand you or want to understand you because your energy doesn't match theirs.

And so I wondered could we find it in ourselves to be better?

How could we actively be kinder?


Jim Rohn, the renowned businessman and personal development guru, said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

In understanding the psyche behind sh*t talking I soon began to realize that it wasn’t as commonplace as I thought. I distinctly became aware of how particular individuals affected the topic of conversations. Despite knowing what I deserved and the conversations that I wanted to have, I repeatedly engaged in deprecating behaviour. And I couldn’t stop or leave.

This is how Katy put it: “It’s almost like we know what we want and deserve, to an extent. We’re not stupid. But, we accept something else, just to not upset the balance. If we lash out too quickly in a feverish expression of “wait, this isn’t what I want!!! I don’t deserve this!!!!” we could potentially scare the shit out of everyone we know. So, we stay rooted right where we are. Even if it isn’t ideal.”

“The reason why we can’t let go of people sometimes is that deep down we still feel hope. You aren’t stupid for being optimistic about parts of your life that aren’t going well. However, if you know in your heart that you are in a place, or with a person, that isn’t working, you’d be stupid to stay.”

Hence it boiled down to the following chunks of wisdom that I hope to cling on to :

Surround Yourself with the Right People.

Be Intentional With Your Time.

Don't Giving up Your Energy Easily.

Don't Lower Your Standards.


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