Socializing is a natural human activity and may even be considered a need for survival. It is necessary for social norms and culture to be understood in order to learn and grow within a group or setting; climbing the social ladder isn’t just for housewives and women’s groups! Men take part in this form of interaction but perhaps in a different context; business networks, closed social circles, and even groups of friends can take part in similar interaction patterns. And it’s in these close circles and networks that the need to gossip is commonplace.
Gossip isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it is a way for people to connect, to gain insight about one another, and learn through the grapevine. Positive gossip creates unique, interesting, and evolving relationships. Who doesn’t want to know a friend’s decision to propose one week before their potential mate? Who wouldn’t want to know that their neighbor friends are planning a surprise party for their new son-in-law? However, gossip in the negative contexts can cause harm and emotional upset between friends, groups, and networks. But can it be overcome, or is it a natural human trait?
Workplace gossip is likely the most popular; most people spend almost half of their waking life at work, and can form tight bonds with peers and coworkers. Gossiping around the water cooler isn’t just for office types; it is a widespread trend, and can often be the way to learn a company’s culture from the inside out. If and when you koow what happens in the rumor mill, it’s likely that you will be able to identify safe, and unsafe, territory! Just remember that being known as a gossip monger is probably not your best career option; it’s best to stay aware, but choose not to participate. If you take your job and career seriously enough, you wouldn’t want to be associated with this always-present vein in any company! As tempting as it may be, set your boundaries and stick with them.
The psychological ‘need’ for gossip is commonplace and more likely so amonst friends and more casual environments. Researchers have presented the idea that gossip may be a survival technique that we have learned from our ancestors; for example, when cavemen may have found out that their enemy who had access to their food of choice, now had a broken arm, it would be in their favor to stake their claim as soon as possible. Communication was critical before language, and this could have elicited the urgent need to gossip simply to get ahead of the competition!
Online increases in interaction through forums, discussion groups, e-mail, instant messaging, and networks such as MySpace and Friendster provide even more socially acceptable avenues to perpetuate the cycle. The rapid ‘talk’ on these platforms allows gossip to spread within minutes; it no longer takes a day or week to get a critical message across! Even text messaging on cell phones can be a great ‘undercover’ way to transmit some recently acquired news.
Another facet of the gossip world is today’s focus on the media; the neverending stories about celebrity lives we don’t really know creates a social hotbed of conversations, discussion, and opinon. Think about how many friends talk about celebrities as if they truly know the lives, choices, and decisions that celebrities have made (or not!). Although most of us know it is usually media-propagated fiction, it remains an entertaining pursuit to this day. Shows such as “Hollywood Insider” and supermarket tabloids such as the National Enquirer and the Globe continue to revel in high ratings and customer interest. Fact or fiction, the attention of the public is essential for these outlets to survive. Media influence on the public has been a key part of Western culture for most of the post-industrialized period as advertising and news delivery became easily available.
Gossip is clearly a natural, and perhaps resourceful way for humans to interact, communicate, and remain connected. It provides an insider’s look at otherwise not-so-easily available information, and for many, is a large focus of people’s lives. When used for positive reasons and outcomes, it can be a great source for networking and friendship-building. In the negative sense, it can seriously undermine a person’s integrity, trust within relationships, and ability to create fulfilling relationships. Choose your gossip participation wisely!