dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

In Defense of Gossip

October 25th, 2020 by dk

I’ve been thinking about gossip lately. I’m in favor of it. Our world might be better if gossip didn’t occur, except that it would be a world without humans, or without those we recognize as human.

We’ve banned gossip from polite circles and congratulated ourselves for it, but our efforts improved nothing. We were better off when we talked about one another, even clumsily or with occasional malice. Instead, we talk only about ourselves or we don’t talk to others at all. Both of these alternatives are worse, in my book.

When people freely repeated whatever they heard, listeners had to learn to discriminate. They considered the source. They didn’t believe everything they heard, because they understood that not all sources are equally reliable. They learned to trust a few, while always remaining vigilant.

People were prepared and equipped to handle conflicting reports. Faced with opposing views of equal merit, they’d ask around. As they gathered more details, they’d collect information that wasn’t relevant to the immediate case, but foundational for the next one.

Communities used gossip to become reticulated, interwoven, close-knit. People didn’t keep to themselves, because they couldn’t afford to. Literally, they needed help from others to survive. But also figuratively, they knew that depriving neighbors access would create more chatter than it prevented.

It’s true that people say hurtful things when gossip is not disallowed. Gossip sometimes makes a bad thing worse. But it forces people to talk to one another — to promote, defend, or rebut. The words we use to express and resolve conflict have been replaced with sticks and stones. They break bones.

We overlook nuance when we bar gossip outright. It’s the junk food of conversation. Good people don’t indulge the urge too often. The goal is to resist the urge, not to remove the temptation. Gossip may be necessary in a connected world, but it’s not a good hobby or habit. Gossip is OK. Gossipers are not.

Those who gossip constantly find themselves with fewer friends. More importantly, they worry what others are saying about them. We’ve lost this healthy sort of shaming, where the community casts judgment on an individual. Self-shaming is a recent invention and not at all preferable.

A few centuries ago, no one would have ever told another, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” It would have made no sense. Shaming and shunning was done by the group to correct the individual. This mended the rifts in the community that gossip would occasionally cause and often reveal.

When people talk about one another, even behind their backs and with incomplete or wrong information, communities can be self-correcting. Isn’t that better than the sullen separation that we endure instead? Loneliness and depression are rampant across our land, partly because we think we shouldn’t talk about one another.

I’d rather we do it badly than not at all. If we have the courage that flows from good character, we’ll tell the person directly what we’ve said to others about them. I expect to hear from courageous readers, sharing what they think of me for suggesting this.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.