It would be incredibly sinful if I said “I never engage in gossip; Gossip is repulsive”. I love gossip.
Gossip can be defined as anytime you talk about another person. Growing up in the dance world, we gossip ALL the time, because the nature of the sport is to judge people’s appearances. It’s usually like, “She totally got fake boobs last summer”, or, “Did you know that team doesn’t start their routine until November?”, or, “I heard her mom paid for her to move out to L.A.”.
I love this kind of gossip for two reasons: (a) because learning who did what workout routine and who wore what color top and who did and did not make the team gives me ammunition for analyzing (it’s no different than talking about which quarterback is going to which team, and who ran the fastest at the combine, and who was really disappointing, and where that free agent came from), and (b) because I LOVE hearing how people exaggerate their stories (I can’t BELIEVE that she did that last weekend! It is so appalling! How could she live with herself?)–it’s always really amusing how people sensationalize and dramatize everything, and make someone’s nail polish color into the biggest deal ever.
We gossip about all kinds of different people: our friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, celebrities, people we catch on the street, and even characters in books, plays, movies, or t.v. shows (You can’t tell me that you didn’t make a judgement about Chris’ decision on The Bachelor…). As humans, we LOVE to gossip, and we LOVE to know other people’s business (mainly, because I think it makes us feel better about ourselves–even if my life is kind of in shambles, at least it’s not as bad as so-and-so’s). We gossip about all kinds of different subjects: “I am pretty sure he has a drinking problem; did you HEAR the trash when he took it out this morning?!”; “Did you hear she filed for divorce and he REFUSED to sign the papers?!”; “Have you ever noticed how much she shops?! No WONDER she can’t pay any of her bills!”. Anytime we are talking about another person, whether it be someone we know well or not, and anytime we make a judgement about something they did that may or may not be true that we heard from someone else, we are engaging in gossip; Ellen Degeneres said, “People love gossip; it’s what keeps the entertainment industry going”. And, we gossip for all kinds of different reasons: because we are bored and crave entertainment, because we can’t believe what we heard as being so scandalous, because we want to be the gate keeper of the information.
I am not sure that all gossip is necessarily “bad”, because it is often through other people’s experiences that we can learn a little bit about ourselves. When you hear that piece of gossip about “so-and-so cheating on their boyfriend”, and then the conversation turns into a philosophical discussion about “What is Infidelity?”, and you realize that you would consider even sending a text message counts as ‘cheating’, then you have learned something about yourself that might help you in your relationship. Or, when someone tells you, “Did you hear so-and-so quit the gym and has only been doing yoga for her workouts?”, and you decide that, actually, she looks good, and perhaps you should change up your workout routine, then you have used that gossip to set yourself a new goal. Or, when you hear, “So-and-so moved in with her boyfriend after just two weeks of dating”, and you realize that maybe you and your boyfriend, who have been dating for two years might want to take that step, then perhaps that piece of gossip was productive in furthering your entrance into adulthood that you were so repressively denying. Socrates once said, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.” I don’t necessarily think all gossip-talking about people-is “bad”.
It depends on how you choose to use that piece of gossip, and unfortunately, most of the time, we don’t choose to use it in productive ways. When gossip gets you in trouble is when you take it for the truth, and you spread it for your own personal gain.
My favorite piece of gossip? “So-and-so said you said this”. Ah, that could potentially be true that once upon a time I did say something along those lines. However, whenever I hear a piece of gossip, I always first ask myself, “Why is this person sharing this with me?” Say, perhaps, they say, “I heard from someone else that your boyfriend was seen at the movies with another girl sharing a single ice cream cone”. Ok, that might be something I want to check into, because if someone is cheating on me, I probably need to know (especially if they were sharing an ice cream cone and now I have the potential of contracting cooties).
However, if the piece of gossip was something like, “So-and-so said you said you didn’t like my hairstyle last week”, I might kind of wonder (a) why they even cared enough to remember that conversation and (b) what kind of good they thought it would do to you to share what I maybe had potentially said; if their motives were strictly to gain power and control, and to share that conversation in order to oppress me, and to use that statement that I may or may not have made to make you mad at me, then I am probably going to be a little skeptical of the gossip-sharer (because, in my opinion, the only time we should share conversations with other people is when they benefit that person in a positive way–you know, like, “Hey, I was talking to So-and-So the other day, and he said she was really impressed with your speech; or, So-and-So said she thinks you are really nice and helpful; or, So-and-So said you have the cutest dogs ever!”) John Lydon says, “Gossip is a very dangerous tool. We should be more wary of the gossiper, and not the gossip they are trying to rely”.
And, I always try to question what the truth of the statement was. Since we all have different experiences, and different perceptions of the world, what I said could have been misconstrued based on so-and-so’s different experiences and perceptions of the world, what they remember about the conversation is different than what I remember, and since it’s probably been talked about and gossiped about over and over again, the truth of what I actually said probably got warped, and what you are hearing is probably some kind of inaccurate rendition of what really was said (kind of like the game of telephone). I always think about Elizabeth Loftus’ research on false memories. Basically, Loftus and some researchers took a bunch of kids, told them an untrue story about them ‘getting lost in the mall’ when they were little, and came back later to interview the kids about it. What they found was that they could easily implant memories into these kids; even though the kid never did get lost, many came back with these huge, elaborate stories of what had happened. So, the memory is actually a fallible organ, it can change itself unconsciously, and there is a possibility that whatever so-and-so thinks I said could have been an implanted memory, or perhaps someone else said it, and it got attributed to me, or perhaps it was a dream and was never said at all, or I did say it, but not in that way, or maybe I wasn’t even talking about you at all, but that is just what so-and-so heard. In any case, it’s not really worth me worrying over “what so-and-so said you said about me”, because I wasn’t there, and there are so many factors that could change the context of the situation, and if I want to know the truth, I should just go to so-and-so myself (and even then, who knows where the truth lies).
As Oscar Wilde once said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”. As demonstrated by human nature, we can’t control what people are going to say about us, because people love to gossip; what we can control is whether or not we participate in the sharing of that gossip, and how it impacts us.
I say, let them talk; they can say whatever they want to say, it’s not affecting anything I am doing with my life anyways.
(Oh, but did you hear that Mayella Ewell lied on the witness stand? I can’t believe she would do something so low! Isn’t she supposed to come from a ‘good’ Christian family?)