Sociology of Gossip

Are we hardwired to gossip?

Given how gossip can wreak havoc in our lives and relationships, it would seem ideal for us to not give in to this tendency.

I remember when I was in college, my friends and I were fascinated by The Twilight Saga. We swooned to Bella Swan’s and Edward Cullen’s on-screen chemistry. So, when the reel lovers started dating in real life, we started following their relationship closely. We lapped up every bit of gossip about the couple enthusiastically.

Today, thanks to the internet and social media, finding juicy topics to gossip about, whether they involve a celebrity, a mutual friend or a family member, is easy. But did you know that gossiping is not a modern age phenomenon, and that it has been around for ages? In the Ted Talk, Sociology of Gossip, Television personality and infotainer Elaine Lui talks about gossip in the early dynastic period of Egypt. She mentions the Egyptian hieroglyphs, excavated in the servant quarters around the Queen Hatshepsut Temple, which unmistakably show a royal female engaged in physical contact with an ignoble. Probably, the servants were talking about the queen’s affair with one of her advisors. Only, instead of talking about it on social media, they recorded it as a pictogram.

Given the prevalence of gossip since ancient times, many researchers have studied the subject in-depth. They have striven for years to find out why we gossip. In the 1990s, professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford, Robin Dunbar found that gossiping dates back to the earliest human settlements. He states that during the early ages, gossiping helped forge social bonds, delegate hunting-gathering responsibilities, communicate moralistic behaviour codes, share social information about one another, and even warn fellow primates about potential dangers. In his book Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, Dunbar even goes on to say that languages evolved because of our fundamental need to gossip.

What if, on the contrary, we were told gossiping can do just as much good?

Today, the world gossips about anything and everything that has some spice to offer. Several studies even go on to say that we are hardwired to gossip. But here’s the irony—whereas most of us invariably gossip (in varying degrees), none of us like being branded a gossipmonger. We even go to the extent of perceiving gossiping as a flaw in character. But, is gossiping wrong? Well, gossip can hurt the reputation of others as much as it can hurt our own. Hollywood film Mean Girls is a perfect example of this. In the movie, the protagonist is accused of maintaining a journal of secrets (acquired through gossip) about fellow schoolmates. And one fine day, when the contents of the book become viral, chaos and mayhem spread like wildfire. Personal secrets become public, trust shatters, friendships break, leaving behind the residues of resentment and hurt.

Given how gossip can wreak havoc in our lives and relationships, it would seem ideal for us not to give in to this tendency. What if, on the contrary, we were told gossiping can do just as much good? Motivational speaker and behavioural scientist Steve Maraboli suggests in his book Life, the Truth, and Being Free the more we make it a point to gossip only about the good side of others, the more we’d encourage others to do the same. He believes life would become so much better if we walked away from negative gossip, slander, and verbal defamation.

In the end, even if we are predisposed to gossip, we still have a choice to not be negative and rather gossip about the goodness of people. And this conviction of ours could make all the difference. The more we focus on the negative traits of a person and talk about them with vehemence, the more we are likely to find ourselves soaked in our own negativity. Instead, should we make it a habit to look at the bright side of others and engage in positive gossip, the more we’d spread happiness and positivity.




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