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Gossip is Good

February 6th, 2022 by dk

I miss gossip. There, I said it.

To be fair (to me), and to use that whispery tone that we reserve for this use, malice is not mentioned until the third definition of the word. Can you believe that? It’s true! The first dictionary definitions read like this: “conversation about unimportant subjects, especially people’s private lives” or “to talk about other people or about things that are not important.”

We can argue about whether malice is an essential element of gossip. We can even agree to  disagree about it, confiding in others that we ended our exchange amicably but each of us still believes we are right and the other person is wrong. Our chosen confidants will then wonder aloud what the person not present must have been thinking!

Truth be told — and you can always count on the truth from me, am I right? — we love to jaw, chatter, chitchat, gab, and confabulate about the latest butt being scuttled or rumor being mongered. It gathers us together. Sotto Voce tightens the circle. 

Gossip reticulates us — it weaves us together. The pandemic has made that more difficult. I noticed us doing without gossip during the first COVID-19 lockdowns. I believe the problem has gotten worse, but it’s still mostly unnoticed. Long story short, Zoom have made us too damn transactional. We don’t chat about unimportant subjects.

We’ve become fleshy vending machines, divided for each interaction between those dispensing information and those serving as receptacles to gather and contain it. Motives, intent, backstory are stripped away to make the exchange as efficient as possible. This efficiency is inhumane.

We see it in our children, struggling to learn new concepts remotely, shorn from the social  interactions that motivate them to try harder. There’s no one to impress when your lateral eye movements reveal only the kitchen counter or your dresser and unmade bed. You can’t hear classmates inhaling in anticipation, exhaling in exasperation.

It’s no different for us. What human would ever aspire to someday become a two-dimensional version of themselves? A cartoon picture of the world is all our screens convey. You never hear a tapping foot of impatience or see the wayward glance of distraction. Camaraderie grows outside this limited frame. If it’s not essential, it’s excluded. And it’s making people miserable.

My alma mater offers a service corps program. Two other alumni and I are tutoring a woman in Brazil who wants to expand her micro-business. We can’t fly to Brazil to spend a week or two with her. Instead, we’re teaching her business basics with Zoom.

Last week, I asked my teammates for an unscripted phone call to plan our next session. We talked for an hour about how to earn this woman’s trust. We compared our impressions of her needs. We strategized, based on our varied life experiences. We got to know each other. We cohered. It made a huge difference.

Was that hour of side chatter the most efficient use of our time? Probably not. Did it make our effort more effective, enriching and enjoyable? Certainly, yes.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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