In defence of a good gossip session

In defence of a good gossip session


The backstabbing that occurred on shows such as Gossip Girl  – not to mention the traumatising memory of high-stakes games of Truth or Dare in high school – gives gossiping a bad name.

For gossiping, as most know but haven't dared admit, is one of life's great pleasures. Nothing creates a better bond than a lovely session of it around the watercooler in the office. It's a balm, a break in the mundane, a reassurance and a reminder that we are all deeply fallible.

What if gossip actually brings us closer together?Credit:Shutterstock

As anybody who has watched The Office can attest, most gossip, at least the pleasurable kind, is harmless. It is merely observations centred on the peculiarities of being forced to spend hours with people you have nothing else in common with, or your mum calling to say that Irma over the road's hip replacement went well.

If anything, gossip shows care for others. As the saying goes, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all.

A recent study from the University of California backs this up. Researchers had people wear portable recording devices for two to five days and then analysed the conversations.

The findings, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, included that people spend on average about 52 minutes a day talking about others. Which, as The Cut notes, isn't really that much. What's more, only 15 per cent of the recorded conversations in the study were petty or judgmental.

"We actually found that the overwhelming majority of gossip was neutral," says study author Megan Robbins, a psychologist at the University of California. "About three-quarters of the conversation we heard in our sampled conversations was neither positive nor negative."

Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says the perceived benefits (or otherwise) of gossip depends on how we define gossip.

"[If] that means talking about someone when they're not there, then that doesn't have to be talking negatively or 'bitching' behind their backs," she says.

"Gossip tends to be labelled as something mean spirited that young women do, when in fact much of the conversations can simply be information sharing/gathering and quite neutral."

Ms Brewer notes that social media can amplify gossip with its practically limitless capacity for people to share juicy tidbits of their life, be they a new puppy, boyfriend, or hair cut.

All of which can actually help us to seek out and build relationships, rather than diminish them.

"We use these conversations about people to build a sense of belonging, community and trust – we're working out who is aligned to our values and ideals, we might be creating alliances or finding our tribe (I am still finding mine at 41!) and working out who we want to share our time and lives with."

The real test of gossip, and indeed your character, is how you might feel if someone was recording your conversation or if, say, horror of horrors, you accidentally wrote your Whatsapp message as a Facebook status update.

Which is perhaps why gossiping actually improves with age. We understand the stakes, and how none of us are safe from life's strangeness and disappointments.

Columnist Dolly Alderton wrote in The Times of not enjoying gossiping nearly so much because "as I get older, I’m more and more convinced of my own fallibility, so when I hear a gossip-worthy anecdote about someone, the first thing that goes through my head is not 'I cannot wait to pass this on', but 'there but for the grace of God go I'".

But what if we gossiped with the worn-in kindness that comes with understanding how unfair and surprising life can be? Gossiping isn't just about being nosy about others, but understanding and appreciating just how human we are.

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