According to dictionary.com, gossip is “idle talk or rumor especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” It typically happens outside the presence of the person who is in the spotlight and, like it or not, we all do it.
I think we can identify two types of gossip: either it’s about people we know, or it’s about people we don’t know. We can divide the nature of our gossip into two categories as well: benign and malicious. No middle ground here.
Now that we’ve considered the who (gossips) and the what (the gossip is about), it’s time to delve into the why. Psychologists seem to agree that there are several reasons why we gossip. Here are their theories:
- To exchange information.
- To vent our emotions.
- To bond with others.
- To entertain ourselves.
What the psychologists are leaving out, in my opinion, is that people who gossip are generally focusing on negative information. Sometimes the gossip is shared with those having a mutual dislike of another and can be characterized as thinly veiled revenge. Sometimes the gossip provides a sense of power for the person who’s sharing it, especially if it’s perceived as secret knowledge about another. For example, “are you aware that Professor Rodgers is bisexual?”
Social media, obviously, amplifies the ability to gossip, both by the ability to remain anonymous as well as the potential to reach a far greater audience than simply chatting on the phone or over coffee.
What concerns me is how gossip can impact the person about whom others are gossiping. When we’re doing what comes naturally to most, talking about others when they’re not a part of the conversation, we have no idea what might happen if our idle chatter somehow gets back to “Professor Rodgers.” Some people can immediately dismiss rumors and innuendo without a second thought. Other people cannot.
Being the target of gossip can be considered adult bullying. It may be embarrassing, humiliating, or downright scary. And it can bring about mental health issues ranging from anxiety to depression to panic attacks and even to suicide. So, please take a moment to think about your own accountability before sharing something that you legitimately think is funny and harmless. Consider that you might be wrong. Consider that even though you believe you have the best of intentions, your gossip is probably unnecessary, and might possibly be damaging.
If you find out that someone you trusted is actually gossiping about you, please remember that can choose how to handle it. If you’re able to shrug it off, fantastic. However, if it’s adversely affecting you, try not to share it with anyone else, mainly because you’ll be doing the exact same thing. Instead, don’t engage in defending yourself. It can be much more self-satisfying if you simply cut that person off. Block their calls and texts and block them from your social media platforms.
And remember that your most powerful tool is to choose not to believe what’s being said about you.