When you set intent or when you set goals – especially the challenging and risky kind – that mere action can bring up lots of discomfort. It’s an opportunity for you to look at all the beliefs you hold that contradict your new intention for yourself. Sometimes, rather than face these beliefs head on, we try to distract ourselves from the discomfort they create inside us. One of the ways I see people living in distraction over and over is with what I call collusion.

Even though collusion is dictionarily (dictionarily?) defined as a secret agreement for a fraudulent purpose, I use it to describe a social behavior.

Collusion happens any time you’re with someone and you talk badly about somebody else who isn’t there. Maybe a co-worker. Maybe a friend who started her own business and is now succeeding. Maybe you do it in your own family. It’s deeper than gossip, though gossip is the same basic idea.

I facilitate three-day retreats for women about twice a year. On the first day in my introductory thoughts, I bring up what I call “The Unenforceable Rule.” That rule is No Collusion. It’s unenforceable because it’s up to each individual to choose to monitor her own behavior. It’s a rule because I believe it’s that important. Collusion is such an easy and addictive way to distract yourself from the good stuff that comes from facing your own discomfort.

For instance, at a workshop focused on you or your growth, there might be one or two people who trigger you or who aren’t your tribe. Maybe they talk too much. Or maybe they remind you of your ex-lover. Or maybe they’re just angry. Whatever it is, it’s your own stuff.

I look at my retreats as kind of microcosms of the big life picture. How you do anything is how you do everything. So here’s this great opportunity in this safe location where you get to observe how you handle intent and power and silence and connection. Collusion is just sinking back into old behavior patterns. It blows the opportunity.

So, why does this colluding thing even matter? Who cares?

Because when you’re living consciously, when you’re intending to be present and self aware, then you begin to grok that you’re responsible for everything that shows up in your life. And that using your precious life energy to blame, indict, gossip or talk meanly about another person is a waste. It splatters your focus. It clouds your clarity. And it takes your awareness off of you and your thoughts, which is where the growth of the situation must occur. It keeps you stuck. That is its sole purpose. It even gives you a great reason for staying stuck — this awful person who makes you feel bad.

Ultimately, what you’re doing is making yourself a victim of your emotional reactions.

Being Nice

This goes way beyond the call for being nice to other people. That’s a great idea, and in my experience, it doesn’t go deep enough. The behavioral choice behind being nice doesn’t come close to the strength behind being clear. And the choice not to talk about people and to have boundaries is about clarity and honoring your spirit and the spirits of everyone involved. Telling you to “be nice” is a guilt-inducing concept.

Colluding is not about you not being nice enough. It has more to do with your own fear and insecurity. Colluding hurts you. It disempowers you. It keeps you distracted and agitated enough that you’ll remain just short of your intentions, and they’ll have a harder time manifesting.

The bottom line is that it’s a lot more work and a lot more scary to sit still and ask of yourself, Why is this getting to me? Why do I want to trash this person?

So, then, Why Do We Collude?

There’s a wide range of motivations for collusion. One thing I’ve noticed is that we do it because it’s the easiest thing to do. And it’s so socially acceptable. (There are entire blogs dedicated to trashing celebrities. And people love them!) It’s a way to pass the time. It’s a way of connecting with people when you don’t know there’s a deeper way to connect.

I see collusion as an addiction. A distraction from the real issue. And the real issue is you. And fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear that you’ll always be alone. Fear that your good can be taken away. Fear that everyone will see your inner Gollum, clutching at your Precious, wanting all that power.

There’s also self-righteousness. And the word should. “I am right. This person should behave another way. I know more about what should happen here.”

Collusion and Friendships

One of the unhealthiest aspects of female friendships that I see and have participated in is the unspoken contract that says: If we’re friends, then I’ll hate the same people you hate. I’ll hate your ex-husband. I’ll hate your lame boss. I’ll trash the pretty new employee that works down the hall from you just because you think she’s a slut. And in all of this diss-ing, we’ll have our bond.

That, as far as I’m concerned, is an old model. And it makes for weak relationships.

A more empowering friendship is one where you can listen or just allow space if your friend is getting triggered by, say, an angry boss. It’s not that you don’t have deep compassion and understanding for why his behavior is hurting your friend. But jumping in and adding, “You’re right. What an idiot. He’s a loser!” just keeps the situation stuck and in drama. It stops your friend’s growth in its tracks.

My friend Kathy and I actually made a verbal agreement “not to go there.” We chose to support each other through the break ups we were each going through at the time, but we didn’t want to trash her ex-husband or my ex-boyfriend. Which isn’t to say that we didn’t each have our rants and raves and very bad moments. But we set the intent not to agree with the other if she was in that bad place. It was more uplifting to suggest that we find other ways of seeing this situation, to see how we attracted it, or to see how we could grow from it.

My friend Marty (the one who can’t work her cell phone) is one of the most amazing people I know. She’s one of my best friends, so I can say the following with absolute certainty: She does not talk about anyone. She’s been in situations that could trigger me to madness, and she holds her center. She’ll recognize it’s her stuff and only her stuff. I’ve watched her at parties or in groups, and the minute anyone talks meanly about anyone else (even a little bit) she’ll walk away from the group. And she never does this with self-righteousness or judgment. She just knows it’s not where she wants to be. She made the decision a long time ago that it didn’t serve anyone to talk about other people, and that she wanted to live in the knowingness that everyone is doing the best that they can in every situation. She’s my hero.

Collusion and Work

The entertainment business provides ample opportunity for trashing. Insecurity abounds and passion is high. That combination is like the world’s largest Petri dish for collusion. And it’s not limited to the entertainment business. It’s all over the place. So many opportunities to distract yourself by making other people the problem and you the victim or the judge. Especially when your performance is public. Even if the “public” is your peers.

The first time I confronted this issue in myself, I was in Texas on tour in with another songwriter. I’ll call him Joe. It was late at night after a performance, and we were hanging out with the promoters. They were criticizing another performer who has a history of social clumsiness. There are lots of stories about this person. I had been in a few situations with him myself. So, we all jumped in. It was kind of a free-for-all.

This came at a time just after I had told myself I didn’t want to engage in this behavior. And what happened that night (and any other time I colluded even a little bit) is that I felt sick to my stomach. It’s as if my body was sending me signals to get me to wake up out of my unconsciousness. I went to bed feeling terrible and weak, remembering my earlier decision not to behave like this.

The next morning, Joe and I were standing in a parking lot before breakfast. It took all my strength to admit to him that I had behaved badly, and that I didn’t want to trash people, and that I felt awful. Joe’s face lit up. He said, “I’m so glad you said that! I felt awful too! Why do we do these things?” And we talked at length about music and insecurity and all the people who can trigger us. And we made a covenant right there in that parking lot never to trash anyone in the music business again — artists, agents, managers, no one — no matter what.

Occasionally I would slip, and I would write him an email confessing that I had strayed. He would confess to me if he had strayed. But it was such a strong moment between the two of us that it kept me powerfully aware of myself in any situation where I was tempted to join in on the unconscious behavior.

In Part 2, I’ll write about ways to begin the process of getting clear about the decision not to collude.

14 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • SWM

    Very strong post. I’m a 23 year old male, and I think this is incredibly spot on.

    If only more people could see the ‘butterfly effect’ of negativity that collusion creates… the world would be a better place.

  • Carolyn

    I’m an introverted, only child who has always been kind of “philosophical” and without envy (not that I had many material or emotional comforts growing up, but I just didn’t compare my lot with anyone else’s, since there was no point in doing so), so for all of my life I haven’t been a gossipy or “colluding” person.

    I have no trouble not talking about people behind their backs, not criticizing people, staying in my own business, etc. It’s my default position.

    The problem is that, especially for women, many social situations, organizations, and workplaces are ruled by this kind of interaction and gossip. If you try to stay out of it, people tend to view you as “aloof”, “anti-social”, “not one of us”, etc. You also are outside of “the loop” and miss out on information that is spread on the “grapevine”. It is a high price to pay, in order to be on the right side morally.

    I always pay that price because I wouldn’t want to act any other way, but sometimes it has important ramifications, especially when you are in a situation where a small group of people can decide important things about your life, and which you can’t easily move on from.

    People can be tempted to turn on you when they see that you are not going to fight that kind of war, and therefore you become an easy target for their malicious gossip. Unfortunately, even in “top-notch” organizations where everyone is of a mature age and “successful”, many people, even older males, are small-minded and eager to exploit anyone’s weakness by gossiping and chattering behind people’s backs.

    This happened to me in my academic department when I was getting a PhD, and I was astounded at the behavior of the older professors, as well as the peers of my own age. It was worse than girls in the gym locker room in junior high, or the frightening tribalism and emotional combat that was going on in my freshman dorm at college during the sorority “rush”.

    (The name of the book “Lord of the Flies” is occuring to me here – I think it is about this kind of bullying group-think – although I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure if it’s applicable.)

    So it’s great to take a stand, and stand apart, and walk away, but that is easier to do when you are self-employed, you are at a party where you don’t know the people very well, etc. It is not so easy when you are in a group of 10 or 50 or 100 people and you are stuck with them for a long time to come, and they are fighting it out to establish the hierarchy and to eliminate any competition that they can, in any way that they can.

    I still refrain from gossip, backstabbing, and negative talk about others — because I couldn’t do anything else, even though taking the high road has sometimes been at a great personal cost.

  • Erin

    Hi Christine,

    I just found your blog through Martha Beck’s post on vision board. Wow, you have some very wise words and I am so glad that stumbled upon your blog! I hear you big time on the collusion thing. It’s everywhere – celebrity bashing, ex-bashing, coworker bashing and I feel in my situation, family bashing (everyone always talking about what X family member is doing). I’ve made some attempts to limit my participation in collusion – I no longer read those addictive celebrity blogs, I TRY not to participate in coworker bashing (though that’s a tough one) but I am finding the family member bashing tough to overcome/approach, especially when it’s not actually bashing just always talking about the person who isn’t there.

    Thanks for your blog and keep ’em coming!
    Erin

  • pandi merdeka

    hi nice post, continue to read ur post and nice blog

  • Diane Clancy

    Hi Christine,

    This is a fantastic post!! Thank you for such detailed, in the trenches, honesty!

    ~ Diane Clancy
    http://www.dianeclancy.com/blog

  • christine

    Thanks for writing Call Cruncher. Hopefully, once you start observing without huge judgment, you’ll shift pretty quickly. That’s what started happening for me. Though, I can still feel myself getting pulled in to certain conversations at times. You’ll see. It becomes easier!

  • Call Cruncher

    Thanks so much for the post! I completely agree with everything you wrote. I have noticed this so much in my own family. I feel like I totally get sucked in, and then like you said, I end up feeling bad and sick about how awfully I have acted. But like Kelsey said, if I don’t participate, I feel that I am the one who gets talked badly about behind my back. It is very frustrating. I am very anxious to read part 2. Thanks again.

  • christine

    Hi Kelsey,

    I’ve known lots of people who have talked about no longer going into the teacher’s lounge. Congratulations on making that choice. And be kind to yourself about the “other situations.” I think everyone would understand! Thanks for writing!

  • Kelsey

    Christine,

    What a great post! I don’t really know if I know anyone who doesn’t engage in that kind of behavior on some level. I agree that it has a lot to do with insecurity. When I taught I stopped eating in the teacher’s lounge for two reasons:

    1) I didn’t want to talk about everyone’s diet, or have them look at me funny for what I ate.
    2) I didn’t want to waste my only free time in the day with gossip.

    In a way it was hard to leave because I know that my decision not to join just meant that they were now free to discuss me as well.

    Unfortunately that was only one situation I chose not to participate in, I’m guilty of collusion in other situations. Sometimes I think women don’t know how to relate to one another without gossip. I’ll be interested to see what you write next!