One of the many embarrassments of my life was when I was in school, and I started to tell a friend about another classmate that we both knew. After I was finished she said “great minds talk about ideas, average minds talk about events, and small minds talk about people.” I shut up very quickly, feeling petty and chastised.
That didn’t last very long, though. I was back at it in a few weeks, and I continue to occupy my thoughts (social media feeds) with the activities of other people. But here’s the thing, it isn’t just me - everyone gossips. And I’m here to tell you about why it’s okay - and maybe even good for you.
When I decided to write this essay, I looked up results for “gossip.” Turns out, there are studies on how gossip has a social function — people say it’s “communication”, it’s how we “learn about people”, it’s a “survival skill” and also how we “keep people in check because they’re scared to be gossiped about”.
Honestly, despite my affinity for gossip, I find all of these reasons kind of alarming - like we’re one big hive mind. But they do make sense when you think about the role gossip plays in our lives.
Sometimes, gossip helps you navigate new environments and situations - like your new boss’ quirks and expectations before a big presentation (“They lose their mind if someone uses Helvetica”), or knowing that something tragic has happened to another person, so you don’t bring it up till they’re ready. The whisper networks formed in the wake of the #MeToo movement have also emboldened survivors, and given them a community that’ll support them in the face of uncaring bureaucracy.
Gossip isn’t all function, though - it’s also form. I often see it as the art of entertaining storytelling. We all have a friend who treats a funny story like a one-woman play. Think about it - what TV show can possibly be more riveting than one you’re in, with characters that you know?!
Forget the subjects of gossip though - what about the gossipers? I’ve found that it can also help you understandyourself, and the people you’re gossiping with. Their values, what you might disagree with, and also — what gossip may reveal about insecurity.
When I gossip I often realise that it’s less to do with the people I’m gossiping about, and more to do with some ideas about them I’m uncomfortable with, that I haven’t resolved in my head. I don’t mean to sound ‘holier than thou’ about this - I just mean that most people I b*tch about bear a striking resemblance to my childhood bullies or something, LOL.
More commonly, though - most people gossip to vent. And this is totally okay - healthy, even - if it’s harmless. Group chats have become a safe haven for our most unpolished and candid thoughts - but it’d be naive to think that the permanence of the internet and screenshots hasn’t given gossip a bad rep – and even larger audience than it was ever meant to have.
But here’s the thing - most gossip shared by people actually isn’t negative - it’s completely neutral. Have you ever had a grandparent or parent share a piece of news with you, about something completely random, and then not add anything else to it? Like “So-and-so bought a new mixer today.” or “I saw so-and-so at the market today”? I’ve come to enjoy these statements that were previously very confusing to me — and this is because neutral gossip often makes you feel connected to people, feel a bit grounded in your world, and is other people’s way of sharing their day or observations with you.
And so I come back to the question of ‘small minds’ and gossip - talking about people has, for centuries, been the way we talk about ideas. Sometimes, if you listen closely to trash-talking, you’ll hear worldviews, vulnerabilities, politics, and even community-building. But as long as you’re not hurting anyone or spreading rumours, it’s really okay if it’s just trash too.
Love from my small mind to yours,