61 Gossip: Work Can Wait Till Tomorrow

To add to my list of traits that I share with Montaigne, I also despise gossip. I’m guessing that Montaigne wouldn’t have tolerated modern office politics:

I feel guilty if, when standing beside some great man, my eyes inadvertently thieve some knowledge from the important letter he is reading. Never was anyone less inquisitive, less given to poking about in another man’s affairs.

In my line of work — executive speechwriting — it’s the height of unprofessional behavior to betray confidences or otherwise seek out information beyond a need to know. Montaigne makes an interesting point about this, though, that gossip bears a relation to curiosity and someone in public service needs plenty of the latter:

In my opinion a wise man can (out of concern for others, such as not impolitely interrupting a social event, as was Rusticus’ case, or so as not to break into some other affair of importance) put off reading any news brought to him; but, particularly if he holds some public office, to do so for his own interest or pleasure – not interrupting his dinner or even his sleep – is unpardonable.

Montaigne, always most interesting when serving as an amateur psychologist, also draws a connection between procrastinating matters of your personal affairs with a disdain for gossip:

The opposite vice to curiosity is lack of concern, which my complexion manifestly inclines me to, and which is so extreme in many men I have known that you can find them with unopened letters in their pockets brought three or four days earlier.

The sly part of Montaigne’s writing is that the answer to nearly every personality conundrum he poses is moderation. In this case, the prescription seems obvious: steer clear of gossip, but tend to your personal and professional obligations.

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