Is Gossiping Really That Bad? Apparently Not.

18.06.18

American actor Will Rogers once said, “The only time people dislike gossip is when it’s about them.” And not a truer word has been spoken since.

Gossip.

We pretend we don’t do it, feel bad when we share it, feel good when we receive it and freak out at the thought we’d ever be the subject of it. It’s an emotionally-taxing exercise. But according to a new article on The Atlantic (and some highly convincing research), feeling guilty about “the talk between at least two people about absent others” is unnecessary.

Ben Healy reported last week that despite gossip’s bad reputation, a surprisingly small share of it – as little as 3 to 4 percent – is actually malicious. And what’s more, participating in gossip might even make us better people. A team of Dutch researchers reported that hearing gossip made a person more reflective of their own behaviour; if they heard positive gossip it inspired self-improvement and if they heard negative gossip it either taught them a valuable lesson or reaffirmed their good behaviour (a self-indulgent pat on the back, if you will).

Anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar agreed, arguing that gossiping gave our ancestors a shared sense of identity and helped them become more aware of their environment, ultimately protecting them from danger and leading to the higher cognitive function we have today.

What all of this says to me, is that basically the only reason we feel guilty about this guilty pleasure is because of the negative connotations associated with it. The Regina George-esque behaviour that film and television have perpetuated throughout history. Big Red in Bring It On. Kathryn in Cruel Intentions. Gossip girl in Gossip Girl!! But, at the risk of sounding like a horrible person, I see gossip as one of the building blocks of female friendship. I feel infinitely closer to a person when I know I can tell them a second-hand story and won’t be judged for it. In fact I’m almost certain that one of my best friends and I have built our twenty-year friendship on the basis that we can say anything to the other person without prefacing it with, “Okay this might come out wrong but…”

Un-malicious gossip is not only a form of escapism that allows us to forget looming threats from North Korea, it’s an unspoken understanding that two parties can share stories – that may or may not be based on fact – without the fear of judgement, and with no other purpose than to bring each other closer.

All I’m saying is I’d rather discuss Lucy’s rumoured second pregnancy than Kim Jong Un’s war rhetoric.


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club