We all know that gossip sells, but at what cost?
Dictionary.com defines gossip as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.” I would add that it takes place in the absence of the person being talked about.
What are the virtues of gossip? For me I don’t see many, if any, but that’s not how others have seen it in the past. According to NYdailynews.com article in 2009 Gossip makes up 80 percent of our conversations! Casual conversations by definition are not really intended to be deep and meaningful so there is danger in spreading untruths without constraint.
And according to this same source, gossip is an integral part of the human ability to form complex societies, and that it sets us apart from animals – it allows us to know about people we haven’t even met. But is that a good thing? I guess it can be in a productivity sense if people are relaying opinions from others in meetings in the workplace, or if someone is letting others know that a person is unable to attend a function due to an illness or death in the family, that kind of thing. But beyond that, I’m not so sure. Perhaps some background information on someone you are about to meet can make you feel more comfortable with meeting or dealing with them if you are able to find some commonalities in that.
What I really found disturbing in this article, is that we are engaging in conversations about other people’s business for 80% of our conversation time – this is not meaningful, mindful communication to me. Have we lost the ability to just converse with someone and find out more about them in the time we have together, do we have to continue to talk about others in their absence?
So how does gossip start? Usually by someone who was not present at the event but has heard some snippets of information second, third or fourth hand! Even when we are present at an event or situation, our own perception of that event is coloured by our beliefs and life experiences which creates our own story of what happened. If we relate that “truth” to someone else, then their own beliefs and life experiences colour the conversation into their version of the “truth” and so it goes on as the tale becomes bigger and more colourful with each telling.
A lot of gossip is derogatory; designed to taint someone’s character and for those who do spread it regularly it screams out a need to be noticed, to be seen in a superior light to the ones they are gossiping about. It could also be used to be controlling force in a network of friends or colleagues. The common usage of the word gossip relates to unkind story-telling nowadays, but we could gossip in a good way too!
For those who are being gossiped about, opportunities for meaningful relationships are lost because the gossip tends to stay just that and deeper personal enquiry from others tends not to happen. Reputations can be destroyed and we all know that mud sticks. People become estranged from family and friends, when does cross the line into bullying? Rarely are the gossipers confronted, maybe people feel more comfortable to engage in it with the gossiper so they are not the subject of the next round of misinformation.
When I consider this from what I see around me, it seems rare for people to take the next step and consider, well, even if that were true, I wonder if that person is actually okay, or in need of help – not judgement? The conversation could be steered in a more positive direction with this kind of inquiry. I also don’t feel embarrassed to say “I don’t really feel comfortable talking about this when **** is not here.”? That may make others uncomfortable but then they are less likely to include me in those conversations – which is fine with me.
I wonder where the line is between gossip and conversation? Perhaps we just need to ask ourselves if we would say what we’re saying if the subject was present.
What a kinder place this planet could become if the words of deprecating gossip were thrown to the wind as freely as the allegations, suspicions and judgements are, and people sought to seek the truth or deeper meaning from the person involved.
More conversations supporting people in their absence, shining positive light on those we know would certainly be a more uplifting environment to be in.
Now, I’m not saying I have never engaged in gossip, but I for one will certainly be paying more attention to the quality of information that I am hearing and being mindfully aware of how this can be affecting other people’s wellbeing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the headlines read, “80% of our conversations are based in truth, empathy and compassion.”!
I would love to hear your comments!