I gossip. You gossip. We all gossip.
There is absolutely no one who can come ahead and say that “Hey, I have never gossiped.” Does that mean we are all morally corrupt? The answer to that is: Yes and No. Gossiping is an exercise that individuals actively partake in. It is an act of sharing information about somebody without their consent. Yes, it is morally wrong not to respect the privacy of a person. Yes, it is morally wrong to backbite. And yes, it is morally wrong to gossip. But whose morality are we embracing? Gossiping is generally seen as a form of communication, especially amongst teenagers and adolescents. It has been seen as highly damaging and morally repugnant. But, my dear readers- we live in a grey world. Nothing is black and white. It’s shady.
Before I delve into how and why gossiping can be therapeutic, two things need establishment. First, there is a difference between rumor and gossip. Second, Yes, gossips can be damaging. Coming to the former, rumor is a piece of unverified information while gossips are a piece of salacious information. Rumors are majorly negative in their connotation, while gossiping can have a positive connotation. Rumors spread like a storm of fire, especially in this ever-so-fast technological world with just a click. Gossiping takes time. It’s a two-way communication, not one-way.
However, both do lack the consent of the person about whom the talk is. That brings me to the second point- Yes, gossiping can be damaging.
Gossiping Can Be Damaging
When you gossip, you inherently talk about someone/something. The impact of that gossip can be extremely harmful to that someone. It can be a humiliating experience for them to be at the center of a talk that explicitly is based on judgments. It can shatter the confidence or self-esteem of that someone who might find themselves in a very precarious position wherein everybody is talking about them, but not to them.
This especially happens with teenagers and adolescents who are still finding themselves, who are still growing. Sometimes, this can have a greater impact, such as depression, anxiety, image issues, confidence issues, eating disorders, or suicidal thoughts. So, yes, gossiping is bad. It can be damaging.
The Multiple Faces Of Gossiping
But, did I not say that we live in the grey. There is no binary, no black and white truths. Like every other thing, gossiping has multiple faces. Yes, it can be destructive and damaging. But at the same time, it can be therapeutic and exhilarating. We are judgemental, but that’s because we live with half-truths. Before we add a label of good and bad, moral and immoral to gossiping, it’s important to understand why people gossip.
Why would they do something that can be damaging? Is it because humans are selfish, nasty and brutish like Hobbes predicted or is it because humans are just social animals like Aristotle predicted? Yes, we are selfish but that’s because we are social and we live in a world that is running an endless marathon. We are in a world where even before we learn our name, we know our gender. Thus, before we judge as we do, let’s pause and rethink if gossiping is all bad and evil, or is there more to it? If yes, let’s step out in the fog and figure it out.
Why Do People Gossip?
People gossip for various reasons. The first being it’s a form of communication. Whenever you see something, hear something; you want to talk about it either because you want to process/comprehend it or it’s just too much information for you. You just want to share. Gossiping then provides you a medium to let out that information and talk about it. Make sense of it. Process it. Who said gossip is directly proportional to meanness? One can gossip about things like sexual harassment, coming out, racism, sexism, etc.
A study published in the online issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology validates this notion. It was found that individuals’ heart rates increased when they witnessed someone behaving badly, but this increase was tempered when they were able to pass on the information to alert others. Thus, gossiping can be used as a form of talk that spreads information to alert people and know about the wrong, burst the bubble they live in.
Second, gossips can be a medium to feel great about oneself, to feel self-confident. When you talk about someone, essentializing them, then it can make you feel good about yourself. This is especially true for adolescents who struggle with image, self-esteem issues, running in this marathon, and feel left out. Teenagers feel all sorts of things. They feel that they need to compare themselves, compete and be better. When they aren’t able to, they struggle and lose confidence- which isn’t just a temporary thing. There is a permanence to the impact it has. You feel better than that person you are gossiping about.
Third, gossiping can be a medium to get attention. Knowing things that no one knows makes you feel important, feel heard. Ask those who have never received any attention throughout their life; they feel unimportant and useless. For a person like that, gossiping can be a tool to be recognized. Fourth, gossiping makes you feel accepted. People like to come to you. You become a part of a group just because you know a piece of information. You start feeling a part of this messed-up world.
Lastly, as I stated, gossiping can be used to spread a piece of problematic, regressive information about someone who has the potential to harm a particular section of society. If somebody is being sexist/racist/casteist/homophobic/transphobic, they deserve to be called out. This deserves to be talked about. And gossiping helps as you speak and spread that information. It can help you climb up the social ladder. Sometimes, gossiping can be a way to “get back at someone” who has wronged you, especially in light of no other medium available for your use.
Gossips can be damaging and hurtful, but it can also be therapeutic for those who are victims of this rosy world which in reality is nothing but a land of thorns. Until and unless we establish a world where everyone is accepted, flaws are embraced; we can’t blame them for gossiping if that’s a medium to feel good. Because, after all, who are we to judge if it’s right or wrong when human beings are all but a victim of circumstances and conditioning.
Thus, I gossip. You gossip. We gossip. I ask you the same question again- does it make us morally corrupt?