Family, Self

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly Of Gossip

It is no surprise that the top iTunes show downloads this past week were:

   #1 – Gossip Girl – The End of the Affair?

   #2 – The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – Night of a Thousand Surprises   (New drama and old faces pop up…)

Our society thrives on gossip. TMZ and Perez Hilton are staples in many people’s internet diets. Facebook gives us a taste of the gossip that is going around within our own community. But the local church billboard says, “Gossip the Gospel.” There is no doubt that human beings in general thrive on gossip. US Weekly prints over 58 million copies of its magazines per year. Why do we love gossip so much? Does it serve a purpose? And, at what point does all of the gossip become harmful or damaging to personal lives and relationships?

Besides the entertainment value that gossip provides, it can also meet some important personal and societal needs. On a personal level, seeing others in some form of misery can make our problems pale in comparison. The envy we have towards a huge societal figure may fade away as we discover that he or she is filing for bankruptcy. As we browse TMZ for the daily gossip, we may start to feel pretty darn good about our own lives. Gossip can help us to see somebody as a “real” human being with “real” problems.

Gossip also serves the purpose of protecting people and decreasing antisocial behaviors in society. When a person is engaging in morally improper behaviors, gossip in society can keep this in check. Cheating on a mate is not against the law, but it can be against the social group norms. Gossip serves the purpose of protecting others from the mate who is unfaithful.

Among friends, gossip can serve the purpose of making the friendship bonds stronger.  It not only sets the norms that are acceptable in the social circle, but also shows that there is enough trust within the group to share the inside information. Many close friends cite gossip as being a major part of their relationship.

In addition to helping us along in social circles, gossip also plays an important role on our status, whether it is in our personal or professional life. Gossip about a rival has more value than gossip about an ally. Not surprisingly, women are most interested in gossip about other women. In fact, women are found to be three times as likely as men to be interested in hearing gossip about a same sex target.

Although gossip can strengthen a relationship, it can also quickly destroy a relationship as well. Too much gossip or gossip that is malicious can go ugly very quickly. There are documented cases of malicious gossip causing the target to commit suicide. Malicious gossip is talk that is against a person and not just about him or her. It is spiteful and malevolent in nature, and can lead to destruction of relationships.

How do we balance out the negatives and the positives, and still maintain strong friendships? Perhaps the answer lies in gossiping about last weekend’s episode of Desperate Housewives. Who killed the detective? What is going to happen on the next episode? Or better yet, find out the difference between a frog and a toad as you discuss the YourTango article, “Online Dating in the Toad Kingdom.”

Or perhaps we can focus our gossip on spreading the good news about others’ lives. In fact studies have shown that a gossiper with humorous, positive gossip will be perceived as being more trustworthy and credible.