Definition of Gossip:
“Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.”
The function of gossip is not all negative because we as human beings need to have a sense of belonging. One of the ways we do that in community and village environments, is to connect through gossip. In this way gossiping does have a function, it oils the ‘social’ wheels. It does not always have to be negative and can provide valuable information to the community. But there can also be quite damaging consequences to gossip when the person being gossiped about can be harmed emotionally and socially. This happens if the outcome of the gossip is to spread negative private information that could harm their reputation and affect their social standing or worse, result in the loss of something.
The intention of the gossip is where the problem lies. For example, if I have information about John and you don’t have that same information about John, guess what – that can make me feel that I have some power. The drive to feel powerful and important is why I gossip, not concern for the well being of the community or the person being gossiped about.
Also there is another function to this level of gossip. For example, if I have a problem with my boss and I am not dealing with it, then I can feel powerless over the situation. For me to gain back my power, I get people to side with me by telling them how terrible that manager is, not trustworthy, she/he is really nasty, not caring, and how he/she is against me. I am saying these things to get sympathy but in doing so I am also willing to smear their reputation and have little regard for the damage I am doing.
There is a consequence for the person who is doing the gossiping: they are teaching the people around them that they cannot be trusted. Because if I am gossiping about one person then I am going to be gossiping about other people, and that includes everyone.
Something that people don’t often think about is that there are two ways to gossip. We tend to focus on the person who is doing the talking, yet the person doing the listening is also complicit. In fact the listener has a stronger role at some level as they are providing the space for gossip to happen. Without that space or acceptance, then it would be impossible to gossip. So next time you listen to someone negatively gossiping, be aware that you are part of the problem. If you take the brave step of refusing to listen to it, you have done the person being gossiped about and your community a service.