Did you hear the latest about Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie? Or Miley Cyrus’s underpants? Or that Rihanna really is dating Chris Brown, or about Madonna’s pact with Satan? Okay, I made that last one up, but I really do believe it.
Gossip is everywhere nowadays.
We really like to tittle-tattle, don’t we? I usually try to restrain myself, but I’m guessing that when I succumb, I’m trying to fit in – to align myself with my listeners.
What’s the difference between rumour-mongering about those you know and those you don’t? Probably not much, except that Kate Hudson is far less likely to find out what you specifically said about her.
Whatever the case, think before you speak. Words can hurt.
What the experts say
“Not gossiping is a Buddhist precept. In Buddhism we don’t care that much about other people’s behaviour. We look at our own. It’s good to look into yourself before you speak and see if what you’re about to say is intended to defend your ego. I find it’s not necessary to say the things I used to believe were necessary to say. A lot of what we say is intended to establish personal self in the situation. When things pop into my mind that I want to say, I look at them and think, ‘Well, that’s not really necessary’ and let them go. Most of the time I don’t care whether I get to say my bit or not. Listening is the key thing.”
BRAD WARNER, Buddhist monk, author, Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & The Truth About Reality, Santa Monica, California
“The driving force behind gossip is to understand the social environment. It is impossible nowadays to be successful without having some sensitivity to and grasp of what other people think and do and want. Entire careers are built on this understanding of the social environment – careers like public relations, social work and marketing. Celebrities are role models. They assume leadership and give us our levels of aspiration. We shouldn’t be surprised that we want to understand them. A little dirt doesn’t necessarily hurt some reputations. It humanizes celebrities. In every society, gossip has occurred. Attempts to stamp it out don’t work.”
JACK LEVIN, professor of sociology and criminology, Northeastern University, co-author, Gossip, The Inside Scoop, Boston
“Gossip makes us feel better about ourselves. Why was there such interest in the unhappy marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles? It was reassuring to know that these people had wealth and status but were miserably unhappy. There are two ways to elevate yourself: by doing impressive things or by bringing other people down so your relative status improves. People only gossip about those on their own social level or higher. Most people think they gossip less than they really do. Try to go for one day marking down [when you say something bad] about other people and you’ll see you do it more often than you think. Then try going 24 hours without saying anything bad about or to anyone. If you can’t, it means you’ve lost control of your tongue.”
JOSEPH TELUSHKIN, rabbi, author, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, New York
“For groups to function cooperatively, they have to have mechanisms for suppressing selfishness. It has to be easy to detect transgressions, easy to spread the word and easy to punish bad behaviour. Gossip is the first line of defence against cheating in all forms. We have to keep an eye on leaders because they are in a position to exploit us. We are interested in sexual behaviour because we have to keep these folks under our control. But when it comes to modern celebrities, these instincts probably serve no function. The instincts that worked in our ancestral social environment are just misfiring now.”
DAVID SLOAN WILSON, professor of biology, Binghamton University, author, Evolution For Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change The Way We Think About Our Lives, Binghamton, New York