Gossip – essential to life?

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?

Angossipother 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 Gossip2intend 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?

6 thoughts on “Gossip – essential to life?

  1. Catching up on a years worth of your writings Margie while at the hair dressers 🙂 This topic has been an interesting read. I don’t like gossip. I’m guilty of it. I use the word guilty only because of the standard I set for myself not as a measure of others. I gossip to vent but what I don’t like about it is the potential it has to make a friend question whether you might talk about them in the same way you might be talking about someone else to them. I won’t gossip about my closest long time friends. The friendship is established well enough that I will wait for an answer on whatever I might not understand.
    I guess in that sense, it could be suggested that we gossip on some occasions if we aren’t secure in the friendship. It’s a good train of thought. I enjoyed reading it. Sorry for the ramble 🙂

    1. Hi Rach
      You make a great point about others losing confidence in you when you talk to them about a third party. It is a complex but fascinating subject and healthy for us to take an objective look at our own behaivour. I hope raising this topic helps in some little way to do that.
      Time at the hair dresser is often good reading time. 😉

  2. Jane: “heart needs to be in the right place”. I think that’s the key. Something to aim for. Thanks Margot and Jane.

  3. This is a very interesting topic Margot. I’ve always thought that to talk about someone else, your heart needs to be in the right place. Our own values and beliefs will always determine how we see ourselves and therefore other people and this can have a positive or negative effect on what comes out of our mouths.
    If we are speaking about someone whose actions or values we don’t agree with, it’s easy to put our own spin on what we say, and perhaps our conversations with others will be influenced by our own biases.
    Poor Stan! He is my sounding board on most of my ramblings about others and I think he has grown to know when I am venting or being objective about someone else.

    1. Hi Jane, yes you are right. It is a complex topic on which I’m only touching. But you hit on a stark truth “others will be influenced by our own biases”. This is an idea for another blog I think. Because on the other side we need to be aware of those biases when we receive information. Thanks for your thoughts.

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