As a society we seem to be preoccupied with gossip. Many of us just can’t seem to get enough. The National Enquirer has one of the largest readerships of any publication on Earth yet the vast majority of it’s content is fabricated. People love “dirt”. Think about it, when was the last time “a friend” pulled you aside to share something really POSITIVE about someone else? He said-she said is one of the most unconscious games we play. So why do people love gossip? Does the gossiper provide an important public service or are they simply struggling to find significance in their own lives by analyzing and sharing details about ours? First let’s review three common types of gossip and then let’s take a closer look at the word gossip and identify some of the characteristics inherent to a person who regularly engages in this behavior.
3 Common Types of Gossip…
*Malicious- The intent is to cause harm. This type of gossip often shows up in the workplace and is quite common during divorce/custody proceedings. This type of gossip is almost always based on false or half truths and is designed to make the other person look BAD! “I feel so sorry for Susy because Paul is so careless when he has Jimmy. Did you see that terrible scrape on Jimmy’s head?” ***Jimmy fell off the swing at school and his Principal carried him to the school nurse.
*Subtle- Designed to drop a hint or start a rumor. This type of gossip is often based on jealousy or a desire to get even for a perceived wrong. This type of gossip gained it’s roots in high school but is often carried into adulthood. “You know that John had a child out of wedlock didn’t you? You should probably be careful with that guy”. ***John didn’t call her for a second date which irritated her.
*Unfiltered talker- They make a career out of sharing something about someone with everyone. Commonly referred to as the neighborhood “busy-body”. “I heard that Mark and his wife are having financial troubles, their house hasn’t been painted in a few years”. “Did you know that Sarah talks to the mailman for 15 minutes everyday and even had him come into her house the other day…looks like she’s up to no good!” ***Mark and his wife are putting all of their extra money toward the care of Marks sister who has a rare medical condition that is not covered by insurance. Sarah routinely visits with her cousin Larry who just so happens to be her mail carrier.
Gullible. Gossip meets the needs of gullible people. How else can you explain the monumental success of tabloid publications. Far too many of us are so busy keeping up with the Kardashians and their family challenges that we miss the real life challenges within our own family. I recently read a news account of a teenager who committed suicide by using a hand gun. Her mother claimed she was in the other room watching “Real House Wives of Atlanta” and never heard the gun go off. She told police that she discovered her daughter after she “realized she had not seen her for awhile”.
Opiate. Gossip addiction is similar to drug addiction. The gossiper receives a fix due to the “rush” they get from sharing “secret information”. Withdrawal from gossip can be a very intense process. Forced to mind their own business, a habitual gossiper can easily have a relapse and fall back into their old, destructive pattern of sharing “information”.
Social Bonding. Gossipers tend to attract other gossip dependent people and together they form a social bond. For many people, gossip is the only type of communication they are comfortable with. Talking about and analyzing the lives of other people keeps the spotlight away from them and feeds their profound sense of importance. Like attracts like and soon a community is formed. Within this community a hierarchy will develop as members strive to solidify their position of importance and power. It’s a safe bet that gossip will start flying!!!
Self Esteem. The lower a person’s self esteem, the greater the chances become that they will engage in gossip. Gossipers are masterful at transference. The gossiper offsets their insecurity and fear by sharing and analyzing the perceived problems of others. By taking the focus off of themselves they don’t have to look at their own unhappiness. “Did you know that Sues husband is cheating on her because she had a breast removed? I heard it from a very reliable source”. I overheard this comment at a party we recently attended. The person who shared this “morsel” of information did so with a demonic gleam in her eye. As I watched Sue (the Cancer survivor) interact with other people at the party, it became obvious why the gossiper was so angry. Sue looks great, radiates happiness, smiles, uses touch in her communication with others and seems to be a genuinely happy person who has survived a difficult challenge. On the other hand the gossiper in question is 60-80 pounds overweight, radiates misery, has a wall surrounding her and oozes pissed off!
Intelligence. I have found that the vast majority of chronic gossipers possess below average emotional intelligence. Remember…Great minds talk about ideas, small minds talk about people.
Power. The habitual gossiper operates under a false belief that they somehow wield power over others. They remind me of the “proud peacock” as they strut around sporting their “I’ve got something on someone” look. The reality is that outside of their co-dependent circle of influence (if we can label it as such) their message offers nothing of value. Authentic power isn’t a bi-product of gossip. Authentic power is achieved through congruent actions based on integrity.
I embrace the first amendment and I am grateful for the wisdom of our founding fathers in making it the cornerstone of our constitution. Everyone is entitled to their point of view and we live in a society that affords us this liberty. Fortunately there are laws in place that protect our personal interests when freedom of speech gets out of hand. I.E. Libel, Slander and Defamation of Character. In my opinion, gossip only serves one purpose and that is to tarnish the reputation of another person. When I find myself in the company of a gossiper I immediately exit stage left. On the other hand, when I am around people who are discussing concepts and ideas I cannot help myself from engaging in the conversation. Another benefit of our amazing constitution is that we have the freedom to choose the speech we desire to listen to. Choose wisely my friends!
As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.