It seems that, the more we reveal about ourselves willingly on the TV and on the internet, the more we expect others to respect our privacy. Moreover, while we gossip about others at will, we are shocked and offended to discover that others also gossip about us. Therefore, gossiping has a very subjective side to it, because it does not bother us as long as we are not the subject of the rumors. Either way, everybody is educated to consider that gossip is an ugly and despicable habit. As a result, gossip has been vilified as an unrespectable way of behavior, although everyone practices it. This negative connotation is exaggerated because gossip is a very important social activity through which people can share useful news, or simply become closer to each other by sharing a secret.
Once, a school teacher appeared to sit too close to his teenage pupil. This attracted the attention of her friends, who teased her about it, but nothing serious. Yet, another time, the teacher was seen appearing to flirt with two other teenage girls. This time, those who saw the scene started to gossip about this, and the imagination of the students went wild. When the teacher asked a girl, called Annie, to meet him the next day after class to discuss her grades, those who heard it were certain that the teacher had other plans with the girl. By the next day, three of the boys who had witnessed this event had spread the rumor that the teacher was involved with the girl. One of the boys even posted the gossip on Facebook and from there it spread to the entire school. The teacher cancelled the appointment but it did not stop here. The parents found out about the rumors from Facebook.
“What’s this nonsense about you and the teacher?” Annie’s mother asked.
Annie could not answer, but the police did. As it turned out, the teacher had a record for pedophilia and was not even allowed to be close to underage girls; teaching was out of question.
Therefore, in this case, gossip had helped to damask a pedophile, and possibly saved a young girl from abuse. Gossip may involve love affairs, money issues, health problems, or work – related issues, and generally, it means that the person in question is important enough for others to gossip about her. A work environment is the perfect space for gossip. The dark, grey and silent space of the offices seems to be inappropriate for any type of social activities (or for idle talk). And yet, people gossip freely about their bosses or their co-workers in the noisy and crowded cafeterias filled with delicious aromas of coffee and hamburgers or in the sterile space of bathrooms, and even in the corner of a room, behind a big, ornamental plant with huge, green leaves made of plastic. The latest love affairs between colleagues, the new accountant’s expensive car, or the blond secretary’s short skirt, represent as many reasons to break the monotony of work, and interact freely. One manager at a large company, trying to preserve his good reputation and to avoid gossips, rejected the advances of a young and attractive woman who approached him at work, although he was not even married. As it later turned out, it had been a prank from his co-workers who were ready to film the seduction with a camera. The fear of feeding gossips may regulate people’s behavior and protect them from doing things they might regret afterwards.
Knowing that the act of gossiping is despicable, cheap, unrespectable, distasteful and condemnable makes the power of gossip to bring people together even higher, because they share this socially unacceptable activity. In addition, gossip is not an activity that people simply learnt to enjoy, it is a survival evolutionary tools that allowed people to thrive by sharing information and being constantly aware of the latest news. As David Sloan, a professor of biology and anthropology at the State University of New York explains, gossip is important because it is a type of sophisticated interaction, “important in policing behaviors in a group and defining group membership” (Sloan, quoted in Carrey). Therefore, gossiping about an absent person may mean spreading important news in an act of mutual protection against the possible effects of not knowing. Therefore, the positive impact of gossiping may involve the following:
Healthy social interaction
Empowerment through knowledge
Protection against harm (as in the above narrative)
Signals the important status of the person who generates the gossip - in the case of celebrities, the alternative is anonymity.
Therefore, as shown above, even though gossiping is sometimes unpleasant or worse for the victim of the rumours, it is nevertheless a normal human activity that has evolved as a protective evolutionary tool, but also as a way to strengthen social relations among members of groups. Last but not least, the person that people gossip about usually is usually important enough to concern others, and gossiping reinforces his or her status. For celebrities, the lack of gossip means anonymity and no public person ever wants to become anonymous. Gossip is an important aspect of everyday life and vilifying it will most likely have no effect on the frequency with which people spread rumours.
Carey, Benedict. “Researchers Find Great Value in Gossip/Spreading Tales of Others’ Misdeeds Helps Arrest Offensive Behaviours”. San Francisco Gate. 2005. Web. Accessed June 23, 2015. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Researchers-find-great-value-in-gossip-2647414.php