As someone who was bullied in middle school,
just like everyone else was bullied in middle school I understand how hurtful other humans’ words can be. Still, we all talk about other people. We discuss our favorite literary characters on Goodreads, we analyze our beloved television and movie protagonists on Tumblr, and we hear parents converse about their children all the time. But talking about your peers or other people in general brings benefits, even though society tells us otherwise. The rewards of gossip depend on the gossipers’ intent, and if done for the right reasons, it can help out several people.
Gossip improves our health and builds upon our bonds with other people. According to social comparison theory, we measure ourselves by looking at the performance of others. If we need a self-esteem boost, we compare our writing to that of our ten-year-old cousin, but if we want to motivate ourselves to work harder, we compare ourselves to our favorite authors. Gossip also presents us with a point of conversation – discussing other people gives us something to talk about, and it can also provide us with insight into our social group and where we stand within it. These concepts focus on how gossip assists ourselves when it really aids others as well.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” But we can discuss ideas through the lens of other people if we employ our cognitive resources. A difference lies between saying “Suzy dates so many guys and is such a slut” and “maybe Suzy dates so many guys because the other girls bully her, or perhaps it’s because she has a tough home life and needs support from somewhere outside her family.” As opposed to merely commenting on other people’s behavior, we can put ourselves in their shoes and empathize with why they act or think the way they do. Comprehending others’ motivations and combating our own underlying assumptions moves us past trivial chatter and propels us forward to talking about other people in terms of big picture ideas like compassion, racism, education, and more.
We can help people by first talking about them as well. If someone exhibits aggressive behavior and we feel too afraid to confront them on our own, we can discuss their violent actions with another friend to determine an appropriate course of action. Gossiping about people does not preclude talking to them afterward; we can raise findings and ideas in casual conversation, like, “Suzy and I noticed that you were upset the other day.” Throughout history humans have used rumor and gossip to our advantage, and this article describes it as “public communications that are infused with private hypotheses about how the world works.” If we avoid slander or talking about others in mean or unflattering ways, gossip gives us valuable space for insightful and appropriate conversation.
Gossip has its pitfalls. But we should not label behaviors as negative or positive without thinking about them. We cannot assume that everyone who watches TV leads boring and unfulfilled lives, and we should strive to create ways to change our actions for the better. Not everyone should feel inclined to gossip, but for those who do, we can talk about others in order to benefit both us and them, to raise awareness and empathy, and to add insight into our perspectives of all the people around us.
What do you guys think? Is gossip good or bad or somewhere in between? Any experiences with it you would like to share? Perhaps I only wrote this post to justify all the time I spend psychoanalyzing fictional characters, though I suppose my motivations could be worse. Anyway, if you want to check out my thoughts on Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer or City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare, you can do so here and here respectively. Hope you all have a magical Monday and a wonderful week!