Is gossip always bad?

A friend of mine got caught out cheating on his missus a few months ago. He lived in Brighton and had done so for the past ten years and when he went home to Manchester a few weeks later, everyone knew about it. Understandably he was pissed. Not only had his life been put out there to be judged on, it wasn’t even the true story that was being circulated. He wanted to find out who had started it and confront them, he had things he wanted to say and who could blame him. But, as I reasoned with him I asked, ‘What is the point? The damage has already been done and a confrontation could never end up in your favour’. He surrendered, unwillingly, able to see the bigger picture and made just one further comment

‘I fuckin hate gossip!’.

And who could blame him. When I got my A levels results, by the time I had gotten home an hour later the news had already spread all over Manchester…and Nigeria! I never actually got to tell anyone in my family personally, not even my Dad. A guy in my class had overheard my A in Economics and just…spread the word. I didn’t even know him that well. The Nigeria grapevine was alive that day and yeah, my dad was proud of me but it would have been nice for me to tell him myself.

‘I really fuckin hate gossip!’

Gossip has a negative connotation. It is always assumed that it leads to something bad or undesirable and that the people who gossip are basically evil fuckers who have nothing else to do. Mrs Brown at Number 33, that girl in class who just loves to chat, The National Enquirer! you people know who you are. But at the same time we all love to hear gossip. We want to know about the affair that the guy from number 35 is having with his secretary, or about the latest blonde who bedded Tiger Woods. So as much as we don’t want it done to us, we welcome reading about someone else. Are we all such obvious hypocrites?

You also have to look at the function of gossip. To hurt and ridicule perhaps at face value, but if you look deeper it is just PR isn’t it?, something that keeps the subject of the gossip in the headlines. So in this way gossip must be both good and bad, a real Aristotelian concept, something being both one thing and its exact opposite. This probably means something very deep and cosmic but I can’t remember what exactly so for now, I will steer away from theology and veer towards the dictionary.

The dictionary defines gossip as; 1. casual and idle chat to have a gossip with a friend 2. a conversation involving malicious chatter or rumours about other people a gossip about the neighbours 3. Also called gossipmonger a person who habitually talks about others, esp. maliciously

Not surprisingly all quite negative. But if we go further back in time we have a definition thus follows,

O.E. godsibb “godparent,” from God + sibb “relative” (see sibling). Extended in M.E. to “any familiar acquaintance” (mid-14c.), especially to woman friends invited to attend a birth, later to “anyone engaging in familiar or idle talk” (1560s). Sense extended 1811 to “trifling talk, groundless rumor.” The verb meaning “to talk idly about the affairs of others” is from 1620s. Related: Gossiped; gossiping.

So it would seem that in the beginning, gossip wasn’t altogether a negative thing. Especially when you remember that back then people relied on word of mouth to know what was going on. Now with advances in communication, gossip appears to hold a different position. If people didn’t gossip we wouldn’t know anything. At the end of the day, in their own political way daily newspapers are the most professional of muck spreaders!

But then what about those people that just love to chat your business. They get facts wrong and exaggerate everything leading to people talking behind your back and casting aspersions. In truth nothing can much be done about this, haters will be haters after all but that doesn’t mean that the results must always be bad. When I was in Uni, a girl who I had obviously done wrong decided to warn three of her friends who were due to attend the following year, to stay far away from me. The result was that two of these girls sought me out; I didn’t have to try or anything. There really is no such thing as bad publicity!

But what about when this gossip is coming from inside the family? Can we take it in the same way and not be affected by it? Is that realistic? I mean you tell your sister you may be pregnant and five minutes later your mum is phoning up to congratulate you and your dad to kill somebody! Maybe it is done from a good place but it is still gossip isn’t it? In my family I am the one who spills everyone’s business (my siblings who are reading this I do apologise!). But the reason I do this is two fold. Firstly I truly believe that if they didn’t want the whole family to know their shit, they wouldn’t tell me in the first place. Secondly I think there is something good about there being no secrets, especially in kinship ties. Good relationships rely on a perfect balance of energies between all involved and so anything can push that balance off kilter. A pleasant chat between mum and son will be the opposite if one of them is holding onto something.

Additionally, family gossip is sometimes the only way that family know what is going on, especially where everyone is spread all over the country. Secret successes are made ‘public’ and allows the family to share. Interestingly it is the problems that we refuse to share that end up being chatted about.

Perhaps that’s why I find it difficult to believe that gossip is all bad, even when said maliciously. There is something calming and endorphic about the release of the truth that makes you feel much better inside and good conversation usually follows a bout of good gossip. Now you can choose to focus on the negative side of idle chatter because people can get hurt, but just to be different, why not focus on the positive side for a change and adopt the new mantra that gossip…is good!


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