Most of us may be of the opinion that gossip is harmless. Some of the people I know seem to spend at least half of their conversational lifetime in gossip. They cannot imagine that any harm has been done.
What do I mean by the term, gossip? Saying negative things about people behind their backs seems like a good example of gossip. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable when I am in the company of people who are dishing the dirt on someone who is not there to defend themselves. Occasionally I might venture to suggest that we should not be talking about people in this way. The replies I get are along the lines that they are ‘only saying’ or they are simply showing an interest in relationships. There is no awareness that their gossip might be harmful and the gossipers imply that it might even be a virtue to dwell on the lives of others in this way.
But gossip can cause stress. When someone gossips to me about a mutual friend, I often think that I did not want to hear that. I know this person. I work with them. I spend a lot of time with them planning things, problem solving over lunch and so on. Now I have to chat with them and pretend I do not know what I have been told. That causes me stress.
When I overhear people gossiping I am aware that I might be their next target. They might be saying negative things about me when my back is turned. That possibility creates stress in me.
Whoever is the target of gossip can have their reputation damaged without being aware that is taking place. They have no opportunity to defend themselves. It starts with a harmless comment from the gossip target judged by the gossipers as showing bias or prejudice. Then the gossip target may be seen as unworthy, labelled an ‘ist’ and condemned to an out group. The gossip spreads and the target then finds their colleagues and friends avoiding them or adopting a patronising attitude towards them. That is stressful.
Should people stop gossiping? Could they stop if they tried?
What do you think?