By Kevin Yang
Gossip. I do it, you do it, everyone does it. Someone says he or she doesn’t gossip? Liar. Whether it’s the latest news about a national-level achievement your friend earned or a rumor that your teacher has been involved in a scandal, the news spreads fast and it gets everyone talking. Gossiping is normal, and it’s a natural instinct that we have. Many of us spend much of our day involved in it, whether we realize it or not.
Why We Gossip
Gossiping has been around for as long as humans have had language. As population and communities grew, it became necessary for people to keep up on what was going on around them. This was mainly accomplished through gossiping, therefore spreading information more quickly. As a result, those who gossiped had a clearer view of the situation and were able to leverage that information to make more informed decisions. Those who did not gossip as much were put at a disadvantage. But now as we have evolved, the reasons for us to gossip have become more spread out. Some motives may be to get back at someone else, either out of jealousy or vengeance, develop a closer bond with the people you’re gossiping with, or to simply learn more about other people who you may want to talk to.
Types of Gossip
Gossiping can be defined as any talk about someone who isn’t in the vicinity. With this established, we can see that gossiping isn’t always bad, bad, bad. Neutral gossip can be any information shared about another person with no real emotion or judgment attached. Something like “I heard he applied to Columbia” can be considered in itself emotionless and without judgment. This is just sharing information, which is a great method to learn more about other people and what has happened. Positive gossip, similar to complimenting someone behind their back or sharing good stories, is a good way to build trust with the person you are talking with or create a more closely-knit social environment(more on that later). On the other hand, negative gossip, more commonly known as “bad-mouthing” or “trash-talking” is one of the main social methods used to attack someone else out of any unpleasant feelings or to spread bad rumors. Moreover, negative gossip makes people feel the most powerful. This is the type of gossiping that most people engage in and think of when someone says “gossip.”
Impacts of Gossiping
Neutral gossip is just a means of spreading information. The only real impact it has is making surrounding people more aware of what’s going on around them. When one engages in negative gossip, he or she denigrates the image of another person and creates an unfair prejudice towards said person. Not only does it harm the person being gossiped about but the gossipers as well. It is easy to earn yourself a reputation of always bad-mouthing other people. Additionally, it slowly destroys the trust you may have had between you and the person you’re gossiping with. Chances are, if that person is willing to gossip WITH you, he or she may be just as likely to gossip ABOUT you. Using the same principle, complimenting someone else behind their back builds trust between you and the people you’re gossiping with. They may be more inclined to feel that you won’t talk poorly about them and would only say good things about them if you ever do talk about them behind their back. If they see you treat other people well, they have more of a reason to believe you will treat them the same.
What Can We Do?
It is pretty clear that neutral gossip and positive gossip are things that don’t do much harm to ourselves or the people around us. On the other hand, “trash-talking” is the type of gossip most people engage in unhealthily. Simply put, the best way to avoid these harmful behaviors is to stop bad-mouthing other people and avoid people who also bad-mouth others. It will require a good amount of conscious effort to do so, and to catch yourself engaging in these behaviors and ask why you’re doing it in the first place. Sometimes the answers will be uncomfortable, but that means you’re truly starting to improve yourself.