Gossip is an unavoidable part of everyone's day. It starts as young as 5 years old and stays with you throughout your life. Still, even though everyone does it, it has a terrible reputation. Most of us would agree that gossip is seen as distasteful and can even make you feel like a bad person. But should it? It turns out that gossip is more than a bad hobby; it may be an essential part of human civilization itself.
Indulging in gossip is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it can be traced back throughout human history as a dangerous and deadly force. Gossip and accusations have led to harm, destruction, and prejudice for centuries. So how can one make the case that gossip can be a force for good?
It seems strange to say that gossip can be beneficial, but studies on the topic have shown some interesting findings. Bianca Geersma and Gerben A. Van Kleef conducted a study that had some insight into the effect of gossip in the workplace. Titled 'How the Grapevine Keeps You in Line,' the study showed how gossip acts as an incentive to be a contributing member to your group. Put simply, it makes you feel more like a part of the tribe.
The study found that when people expect they may be gossiped about they are more likely to invest energy in the group. They contribute more resources because they're concerned about the others' opinion of them. Inversely, when people don't expect gossip they are less concerned about their contributions and provide less. This gossip stops freeloaders, boosts a teams effectiveness, and helps everyone gather the most information they can. And, according to the study, it shows that gossip is a powerful tool for regulating self-serving behavior, because as the title suggests it 'keeps people in line.'
The problem with this information is that, it's incomplete. It doesn't answer the question, is gossip good or bad? It makes the answer more complex to say the least. Gossip is essential for sharing intimacies and may even strengthen bonds, but it can also destroy them, as most of as are probably aware. That doesn't stop our intense evolutionary-based connection to it. Still, while gossip can be a tool, it can also be a weapon.
Researcher Jennifer Cole Ph.D. has studied gossip extensively and has some recommendations. She aims for the 'Goldilocks amount', which means you don't ignore gossip or overindulge. She also recommends you understand your intentions. Are you gossiping through concern, anger, judgement or something else? And how do your intentions frame the situation and its consequences? All of that is a way of saying, get the information if it's helpful but don't be downright cruel.
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To gossip or not to gossip - ultimately, there's no simple answer. It can be a powerful tool for improving one's social standing, gathering information, influencing others, creating and strengthening bonds, and is an important part of how groups and societies function; it can also be very hurtful. Whether you agree with the benefits of gossip, it's a natural part of human life and is difficult to be avoided.