In these times of fake news, gossip and chatter on Twitter and Facebook I am reminded of what Osho said on gossip in the ‘good old commune times’, writes Marc.
“I am not against talking, but your talking should not be empty. I am not even against gossiping. I myself gossip so much. But let your gossiping also be creative, not destructive. Let your gossiping also have a quality of poetry and creativity in it. Gossip about god. What are gospels? Gossips about god. Gossip about truth, gossip about beauty, gossip about grace, grandeur. Gossip about this wonder that surrounds you. Gossip about the unknown.
What do you do with your gossiping? You are very destructive. People gossip only as a means to destroy others, to hurt others. Don’t be aggressive; then nothing is wrong in gossiping.” ¹
The word gossip comes from the Old English godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for the godparents of one’s child or the parents of one’s godchild, in general very close friends. The term originates from the bedroom at the time of childbirth. Giving birth used to be a social, ladies only, event, in which a pregnant woman’s female relatives and neighbours would gather. As with any social gathering there was chattering and this is where the term gossip came to mean talk of others. In the 16th century, the word assumed the meaning of a person, mostly a woman, one who delights in idle talk, a newsmonger, a tattler.
In the early 19th century, the term was extended from the talker to the conversation of such persons. The verb to gossip, meaning ‘to be a gossip’, first appears in Shakespeare’s works.
According to evolutionary theories, gossip originated to help bond the groups that were constantly growing in size. To survive, individuals need alliances; but as these alliances grew larger, it was difficult if not impossible to physically connect with everyone. Conversation and language were able to bridge this gap. Gossip became a social interaction that helped the group gain information about other individuals without personally speaking to them. It enabled people to keep up with what was going on in their social network.
Gossip also creates a bond between the teller and the hearer, as they share information of mutual interest and spend time together. It also helps the hearer learn about another individual’s behaviour and helps them have a more effective approach to their relationship.
Anthropological investigations indicate that gossip is a cross-cultural phenomenon, providing evidence for evolutionary accounts of gossip. There is very little evidence to suggest meaningful gender differences in the proportion of conversational time spent gossiping, and when there is a difference, women are only very slightly more likely to gossip compared with men.
Gossip also gives information about social norms and guidelines for behaviour. Gossip usually comments on how appropriate a behaviour was, and the mere act of repeating it signifies its importance. In this sense, gossip is effective regardless of whether it is positive or negative.
Individuals who are perceived to engage in gossiping regularly are seen as having less social power and being less liked. The type of gossip being exchanged also affects likeability whereby those who engage in negative gossip are less liked than those who engage in positive gossip.
Some negative consequences of gossip may include:
- Lost productivity and wasted time and energy
- Erosion of trust and morale
- Increased anxiety among people as rumours circulate without any clear information as to what is fact and what isn’t
- Growing divisiveness as people “take side”
“The mind tends to discuss the defects of others. It helps the ego to feel good. Everybody is such a sinner; when everybody is such a sinner, comparatively one feels like a saint. When everybody is doing wrong, it feels good that ‘At least I am not doing that much wrong.’
Hence people talk about others’ defects; not only do they talk about them, they go on magnifying them. That’s why there is so much joy in gossiping. When the gossip passes from one hand to another hand, it becomes richer. And when it passes back again, something will be added to it. By the evening, if you come to know the gossip that you started in the morning, you will be surprised. In the morning it was just a molehill, now it is a mountain. People are very creative, really creative and inventive.
Why are people so interested in gossiping about others, in finding fault with others, in looking into others’ loopholes and defects? Why are people continuously trying to look through others’ keyholes? The reason is, this helps to give them a better feeling about themselves. They become Peeping Toms, just to have a good feeling, ‘I am far better.’ There is a motivation. It is not just to help others – it is not, whatsoever they say, notwithstanding what they say. The basic reason is, ‘If others are very ugly, then I am beautiful.'” ²
Quotes by Osho from
¹ The Discipline of Transcendence, Vol 2, Ch 2, Q 4
² The Book of Wisdom, Ch 9
Marc is a regular contributor
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