May 5, 2016

Gossip – Why do we talk about each other?

How we gossip about each other

Why and how we talk about each other has me intrigued.

Should we gossip?

Last time I talked on this topic (in Essential to Life), I explored the idea of how gossiping helps us to understand ourselves and helps us to make sense of the world around us. One of my readers suggested that having our heart in the “right” place was important, i.e. it’s okay as long as your motives are pure.

Having a house full of visitors over the May day long weekend, I put the question to them on my toilet graffiti board. This was the result.
Debate about gossip

One visitor raised a great point – how talking about someone can relieve a sense of frustration. Talking about Person One to Person Two can act as a release valve. Person One can be protected from your anger if you don’t talk to them directly. If you take up your frustration with Person Two instead, he/she may be able to help you see a different point of view or be able to offer a greater depth of understanding surrounding Person One’s behaviour. This seems a worthwhile endeavour.

Is it morally wrong?

Another visitor considered that talking behind someone’s back was morally wrong except under exceptional circumstances. He/she suggested that emotionally mature people address issues face to face rather than talking about others behind their back. I’ve heard this opinion expressed before and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with it. It seems a rather noble idea.

However, I would challenge that we all do it, i.e. gossip. Perhaps there are a few exceptional people who don’t. Would love to hear if you know anyone who you consider lives up to this high ideal.

Does gossip provide a bonding opportunity?

Recently, I realised (by observing my own behaviour) that one of the reasons I will talk about Person One to Person Two behind Person One’s back is because it is one way for me to forge a deeper bond with Person Two. It seems that the bond is better forged when the tone of the conversation is more critical rather than complimentary (I’m being brutally honest here).

There is something about talking to Person Two about Person One that has the power to draw me closer to Person Two, especially if Person Two agrees. But is this healthy? Is this confidence shared at an unnecessary expense to Person One? It reminds me of the common conflict in the schoolyard these days. Students at both primary and high school form strong social ‘groups’, e.g. the infamous ‘cool’ group. I know of so many cases where students have suffered terribly when one member of the group (perhaps the leader) decides to ostracise them. The whole group will ‘bond’ together in that rejection. Though cruel and likely irrational, the rejection draws the remainder of the group closer together in some wicked way. But at what price?

Need for change

My take away from the discussion on the toilet graffiti board above and my ongoing musings on this topic have led me to become more aware of these types of conversations, my motives in having them and the outcomes I achieve – whether intended or not. While I recognise that it is unlikely that I will stop talking about others when they are not present, I sense an opportunity. If I can learn to temper my behaviour with greater compassion, regardless whether someone ever knows what I may have said, perhaps I can become a bigger, better person.

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