I love learning. I love learning more and more about all sorts of topics from the banal to the bizarre everyday. One subject I was recently interested in learning more about was the psychology behind gossip. What I found is what I would consider a disturbing amount of articles and documentaries perpetuating the idea that gossip is actually a good and healthy thing.
First, let’s actually identify and define gossip. Certainly, it’s not a bad thing to have intimate conversation with friends and family, to have someone to confide in, but it does not have to come at the expense of someone else’s well-being. An easy way to separate gossip from other kinds of discussion is to answer this:
“If you’re discussing someone that isn’t present, are you saying anything that you wouldn’t or haven’t already said openly to their face? If they entered the room, would you immediately drop the conversation or change the subject?”
If the answer is “yes”, it’s definitely gossip. Otherwise, simply mentioning someone’s name that is not present does not automatically equate to gossip.
Now, the reason I’m finding it so disturbing is because the messages I’m seeing littered about in this new pro-gossip attitude are akin to propaganda for promoting being sociopaths. An almost new world order, Darwin type message. A few examples of the specific messages they’re perpetuating to why gossiping is a “good” thing are as follows:
- In your personal life, it’s good to gossip as a bonding mechanism to improve your social status and to set clear signals that you’re normal and desirable, to separate yourself from the “others” in order to fit in.
- In your business life, it’s good to gossip about co-workers, especially if you can spread rumors about those in higher positions to better align yourself for promotion and rising in the ranks.
- That everyone does it and that it’s never going away.
They shamelessly promote these as positives and good and healthy with no follow up. Well fuck that. I’m absolutely repulsed by this kind of elitist bullshit. Yes, these things are “good” as in good for you, as in selfish, but in the grand scheme of things, concerning your fellow man and morality, no, they’re not good things in the least.
In response to the first message, I don’t care if it would improve my social status, if I’d have more success with friends and lovers. I would never put others down for my own personal gain. So I don’t fit in, good. I’d rather not fit in than hurt other people.
In response to the second message, I don’t care about money and success if I can only achieve it by lying and cheating. If I can’t get there by the merit of my own achievements, then what is it worth? So I don’t get the job, good. I’d rather be poor than to stoop to that level of petulance and manipulation.
In response to the last commonly spewed message, I cannot tell if when they say this, they mean quite literally that every single normal cognitive-functioning human engages in this behavior or that generally, most people in society behave this way. Well, I can tell you first-hand that the former is bogus, because I myself don’t have this bad habit and I’m sure that I can’t be alone in that. Either that, or my brain is damaged or part of it missing. And the latter, I would concede that most people partake in this behavior, at least in my experience.
Certainly, I made a lot of mistakes growing up like anyone else, as is the natural course of things. I’m sure I said things behind people’s back that hurt their feelings or was overtly cruel in the schoolyard at times. I consider this all to be normal, adolescent behavior to find the boundaries and to learn empathy. But, I grew out of this phase at a very young age, before I was even a teenager.
Just because I learned much earlier than most, I wouldn’t impose that on others. I think high school is still quite a hotbed of drama and gossip. After high school though, my level of forgiveness and respect begins to drop. At the point of becoming an adult, if you’re still engaging in gossip, I’m just going to say it flat out, you’re behavior is immature, shallow, weak-minded, and ignorant and you’re unlikely to ever grow out of it.
Let’s get down to what gossip is really about. I think it can be simplified to two reasons:
- For sport. Because it’s simply entertaining to talk about other people and their problems, whether true or not.
- For confidence building. In essence, whenever you put someone down you’re trying to instill the idea that you’re the opposite.
If you gossip for entertainment, I consider that a problem with your intelligence and personality. I have a lot of entertaining, fun, and deep conversations and experiences without it ever only being possible at the expense of another.
If you gossip for the purpose of confidence building, I see straight through your attempts and actually see you as a deeply insecure individual. I have confidence in knowing who I am and what I stand for; I don’t require other people to also think that for it to be true.
When someone tries to gossip with me about someone else, ironically, I only now think less of this person and not the person they’re attempting to put down. My friends and family have quickly learned to bite their tongue when trying to engage in negative gossip about someone with me. Otherwise, it’ll backfire on them. I’ll actually defend the person that is absent and remind the other person of their own similar mistakes or even my own that we’ve made to balance the situation.
Some of you might be thinking:
“But how the hell to you avoid gossiping about someone, how do you talk about your life and problems without even inadvertently putting someone else down, perhaps a wrong-doer? Are you a robot?”
Not a robot, no. I think. I should be clear that I’m not saying there are no circumstances in which it’s appropriate to discuss someone that is not present. Gossip is usually about superficial things, shallow things, and mostly speculative things that only assassinate someone’s worth or character unfairly. But, if someone has dead-to-rights been caught red-handed doing something extreme that violated you, your loved ones, or your property, that is clearly a respectable and appropriate conversation to have with someone you trust.
And for everything else, it’s actually quite simple. Just don’t name any names. I can share crazy “this one time” stories, and private things someone said to me that I may find wise or interesting that I may want to impart on another, all the while respecting others’ privacy, reputation, and well-being. Often times, in these conversations, I’ll be asked “Who was it?” and I’ll simply respond, “That’s private.” which is just a nicer way of saying “It’s none of your business.”
So their curiosity isn’t totally satisfied or the story wasn’t as “juicy” as it could have been. So what? It’s called integrity. Even if my friends and family don’t always show me the same respect, I still do for them. And that’s the point that seems so bizarrely missing from all these articles and docs supporting these ideas that gossip is good: integrity. It’s as if they have forgotten or never even heard of the virtue.
I will admit that it’s probably a lot easier for me than most that might have this bad habit because I don’t actually care about things that aren’t any of my business in the first place. I don’t care about people’s secrets; nothing shocks me and I don’t judge people for things they’ve done or superficial things. It’s not important to me. I don’t care about celebrity gossip; I’m not into brand worshiping. Every person is just another person to me and we all deserve to have our privacy respected.
So, for the record, gossip is absolutely a bad habit and a form of weakness, just like it always was and always will be no matter how people try to spin it or justify it. It’s also worth noting that like everything in life, it’s about finding that right balance. Try not to take yourself so seriously. There’s nothing wrong with a little self-deprecation and razzing among friends. Just be sure that the face your friends show you is the same face they show others when you’re not around. A two-faced person isn’t really your friend at all; they’re really only about what they can take from you.