“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, or as our Sages taught: “Do not separate from the community” (Avot 2:5). It is of great importance to be part of the society in which one lives, sharing connections and bonds with neighbors, friends and family. This does not mean one should not strive to be the “best” he can, but this doesn’t mean he will be morally superior or truly “better” than others. Who are we to judge?
Let’s say that you are trying to avoid speaking and listening to rumors and gossip. If someone you are with starts saying something negative, what do you do? Interrupt and ask him to please stop? Walk away in protest? I think that either reaction would brand you with a “holier than thou” reputation” and cause you to be an outcast.
But is there anything positive you can do to protect your moral fiber and not cause antagonism? You can try. For example, you can smile and say in a friendly manner that you know that no one means harm, but you are concerned that such talk might potentially cause a problem for the person being spoken about, and you would feel better changing the subject. Make it clear that what you say is nothing personal, and you hope that they understand you. Express your appreciation if they comply, and find a way to make a graceful exit if they don’t.
I laud your wanting to be a “better you” and hope that others see you in the same positive light and follow in your path.