Back when we were in kindergarten, our teachers made us play Chinese Whispers in class after lessons. When the last person said the phrase out loud, to our utter amusement, it’s nowhere near to what the first person had said. The moral of this game is ‘gossiping is a dangerous habit’; when a story said in hushed tones is passed on from ear to ear, the data gets corrupted during transmission and there are as many different stories as there are mouths. And yet, all we ever do is get indulged in heated conversations about who is dating who, what is going on with her marriage and what not. The question is, can gossiping ever bring about a positive outcome?
The answer is, apparently, yes. Professor Robin Dunbar of University of Oxford suggested, in his book Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, that the practice of discussing rumours and other people’s lives works as a catalyst during social bonding. If you are struggling to blend into a new environment, gossiping with your new colleagues or classmates can teach you a thing or two about how things work around there and get you updated about who are the cream of the crop there.
Frank McAndrew, professor of psychology at Knox College, said that knowing about the actions of a person and how people reacted to it can help you decide what you want to do in similar situations.
Gossip allows you to compare yourself to the subject and get motivated to improve yourself, maybe set some goals, so that you are not the next target of speculation.
When you meet someone new in your work place or friend circle, it’s better to do some background check before you get too comfortable with him or her. Gossip can keep you from mingling with the wrong bunch. If there are betrayers or rotten apples in your friend circle, the word on the street can give you enough evidence to ostracise them and preserve the greater harmony.
And what is life without some entertainment? To ladies, having a get together is synonymous to gossiping away all day about celebrities, family problems and the list goes on. Shilon, a 19 year old, said, “Through gossiping we throw our heads back and laugh, or pull each other’s leg and just have a good time.” Gossiping with your amigos can also let you give off steam, turn down the frustration and chill. “It helps to get rid of personal tension and struggles for a while”, said Saraf, an 18 year old.
But of course, the negative impact of gossiping is unavoidable. Gossiping takes the wrong turn when the story is partially or completely incorrect. “Gossip that isn’t true has terrible effects; the subject might be harassed because of such rumours,” says Rifah, an 18 year old, “No one has the right to talk about other people and ruin their lives just for fun.”
Even if the gossip is accurate but based on a very sensitive issue, it’s best if we can avoid mentioning it. Sabira, an 18 year old, said, “Gossiping is a type of back-biting, which is evil.” So, if you think that a person had some negative attribute, keep the thought to yourself. Otherwise, your habit of back-biting will make you the subject of their gossip; they will backbite about how you backbite and you will get caught up in a meaningless paradox. It’s not always you gossiping about others; someday, Karma will catch up with you and you will be standing in the limelight of rumours.
Once one takes a break from idle chatter, they realise they have been missing out on the bigger picture. Samreen, a fifteen year old, said, “Gossiping is something I absolutely despise. It’s nothing but shallow discussions and judging people.” Rumour mongering is a pathetic waste of time. Unless you are Taylor Swift or Kylie Jenner, because the rumour mill is a common part of a celebrity’s career. For them, no publicity is bad publicity.
All budding friendships need a common denominator. Sometimes during gossiping, two or more people find out that they despise the same classmate or colleague. That’s how they are united; against a common frenemy. Although this isn’t harming anyone on an immediate level, whether this is ethical depends on the context. But, sometimes gossiping about that other person’s problems and failures tend to make us happy and feel superior. That’s downright schadenfreude; you don’t want to be a vulture feeding on other people’s misfortunes.
All our conversations are made up of three things: the truth, the lie and what you have been told is the truth, but is in fact a lie. These combine in different ratio to form several types of gossips. It’s your choice which gossip you want to get involved in. Discussing about petty life issues is a part of human nature and is a practice prevalent in all societies. But try to be casual and friendly about it; being mean-spirited is definitely not earning you anything. A high school teacher, Arsalan Zaman, said, “I’d walk away from a gossip to avoid painting an image of a co-worker based on his speech or action that has not been directed towards me.” If you see yourself being pulled into a gossip that you think is unethical, nod in acknowledgement and run for your life.