Friday, May 20, 2011

He Says She Says. Gossip is Protective

Does it come as a surprise that the human brain is wired for gossip?  The more we know about people, the more quickly we know whether or not we want to know them better.  Apparently, we’re just lazy.  Why bother to go to the trouble of asking someone about themselves when we can just find out from a friend?  The recent study by Lisa Feldman Barrett and her colleagues demonstrated that when we believe someone has done something bad, we actually look at them more carefully.  Presumably, this is to be better able to assess their threat.  Or possibly to figure out what’s wrong with them so we can use it against them.  It makes sense.

Does research provide carte blanche to gossip?  I think not.  Just because we’re wired to gossip doesn’t mean we have to secretively discuss people and their every flaw and faux pas.  There are those who believe that gossip has the additional purpose of alerting us to potential moral pitfalls and potential social missteps.  We hear about the mistakes of others via the grapevine and it gives us a heads up vis-à-vis our own behavior.

Naturally, some of us love to talk.  And gossip is a form of talk.  Didja hear about so-and-so?  It gives you a bit of an edge in the never-ending battle of one-upsmanship.  I know something you don’t know.

So what’s a thinking person to do?  How about an experiment?  Don’t gossip tomorrow.  When you’re tempted, consider the purpose.  Are you out to hurt someone?  Expose them?  Learn more about them?  Where’s the value?  What’s the good in it?  What’s an alternative?  Is it just harmless conversation?

Personally, I think we’ve evolved far enough to have a limited need for protective gossip.  If someone isn’t particularly nice, I’ll find out soon enough.  Most of us can probably figure out whether we’re about to make a mistake, without hearing about someone else’s.  Surely we can ascertain whether our behavior is moral or immoral, consistent with our values or not.

It took me by surprise I must say
When I found out yesterday…

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