Is Gossip Good?

Yes! When done with a sense of fairness, it's parsing right from wrong, good behavior from bad.

BY: Laurie Winer


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To quote one more author, Patricia Meyer Spacks in her 1985 book, "Gossip," argues that "the anxiety aroused by gossip derives partly from its incalculable scope. One can never know quite where it goes, whom it reaches, how it changes in transmission, how and by whom it is understood." This is no doubt what Harry was anticipating and what Tom felt he was witnessing.

But to those of us discussing Harry and Eleana, this so-called gossip was as essential as talking about the presidential primaries. And more than that, the very act of figuring it all out together offered a kind of social consolation, proof that if we were to find ourselves in Eleana's position, we wouldn't be alone.

In taking sides, we were making a moral choice--not only slamming Harry but also sympathizing with Eleana. Why would remaining serenely, discreetly neutral, as Harry and Tom would have liked, be taking the moral high ground?

Gossip is an interpretive art. We're interpreting the world around us by figuring out the people around us. In civilized society, gossip is the critical edition of the novels of our lives. It's getting at the subtext. When done with a sense of fairness, it's also parsing right from wrong, good behavior from bad. If you apply yourself to it correctly, gossip can have a kind of Talmudic complexity.

By far the biggest problem

with gossip is its flexible definition. First and foremost: Spreading false or dubious information about a person isn't gossip. It's slander. Gossip is ethically ambiguous, where slander is not.

In taking sides, we were making a moral choice. Why would remaining serenely, discreetly neutral be taking the moral high ground?

True, we might think we're gossiping when the object of our discussion would say we're slandering. And that's why gossip is intimate, why it's best done with only those closest to you. Gossip is one of those activities in which if you have to state the rules, you don't want to be doing it with that person in the first place.

Sharing everything you think about a friend with that friend is invariably not possible. We share that information with others in the interest of science and evidence gathering. It may sound cold, but evidence gathering is a crucial component in friendship, as it is in love. What makes this person the person they are--that's what you want to know when you want to know someone. You have theories, which are based on your own observations. These observations are yours to share and bounce off your listener, as long as you never disclose information told in confidence.

My friends don't ask me to present them with an intricate analysis of their own characters, and so I don't. But a friend's behavior, what makes him or her tick, is as compelling to me as understanding the earth's place in the solar system. In fact, my friends are even more compelling to me than the earth's place in the solar system. And in those rare moments when they do, in fact, feel lost and want some insight into their own characters that is unavailable at that moment to them, I can step in and help. I've been studying, and I'm ready.

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