Gossip, is it bad? We all do it. We all talk about each other. We all believe we shouldn’t do it, or that’s it’s bad … but is it really? I’m not talking about vicious rumour-mongering, I mean simply talking about other people when they are not present.
For example, the closest person to us is usually our partner. I am most likely to talk to my partner about other people in my life (though of course there are sometimes strict confidences withheld). In this talking, it seems to me I get an opportunity to work through my understanding of life and other people to some extent. This talking helps me to analyse other people’s behaviour, measure their ideas against my own, even perhaps helps me to understand myself better. The person I might be talking about might be really important in my life, or maybe an acquaintance I’m just getting to know.
Is that wrong … or essential?
Another example. I might talk to one friend about another friend because these friends are unconnected and unlikely to ever meet. I feel this is a safe environment to share confidences in a way that is not going to bring about betrayal. The individuals are not known to each other and not likely to be known.
Is that wrong?
However, we all know that dreaded feeling … that feeling you get when you realise someone heard what you were saying, and you didn’t intend them to hear. It can make you sick to the stomach. Why do we feel like that? We wouldn’t feel sick if they hadn’t heard. It wouldn’t prick our conscience one little bit.
Interesting … why?
Is it because we manage our inter-personal relationships on different levels? There is the face to face aspect, where we carefully consider what we say and do. Then there is the non face-to-face aspect where we consider it acceptable to say different things, as long as the target doesn’t hear. Is this necessary? Or is it somewhat self-indulgent and questionable behaviour?
I had cause to reflect on the nature of gossip during my Master of Arts. I read an academic paper that positioned gossip as an essential component of establishing self-identity and the human condition (by Hazel Smith The erotics of Gossip). Hazel quotes Eggins and Slade who argue that “gossip is a way of making people conform to social norms, while conceding that it affirms relationships.”
It caused me to reflect on the strict social boundaries we have, often unspoken, about how we talk about each other, who we talk to about each other and how we know instinctively when a confidence is implied … or broken.
My conclusion is that we talk to each other, then we talk about each other … it’s a fact of life. The nature of ‘confidence’ is subjective and interpreted.
It’s never going to change. It’s part of the human condition. What do you think?