Gossip is one of the most unconscious addictions many of us suffer from. If you want to do a little experiment, count how many times a day you talk about other people: those you know and even those you don't like celebrities and politicians.
It's not that all gossip is bad. There are basic social functions that gossip serves. The first function is that it creates an informal exchange of information. Think of popular referral websites like "Angie's List" that provide feedback from folks who utilize professional services. The "grapevine" gossip can be informative and can serve as a reference service when we are looking to find out if someone is trustworthy or if a doctor or dentist is a good practitioner.
Another purpose gossip serves is to control inappropriate behavior by creating fear of such behavior being broadcast through gossip and revealing information about an individual they would prefer to keep under wraps. Treating others badly, cheating on a spouse, or being thought of as a liar are typical behaviors that people will usually curb to avoid being gossiped about.
Gossip can also be part of storytelling and an attempt to understand human nature and why people behave as they do. We are often like curious detectives talking about what a person did or said to attempt to understand their motives and how they might be feeling about us. This is one way we try to resolve our realtionship conflicts by talking about the person with friends, family, and even therapists.
When gossip is bad or ugly, we step over the line and maliciously critize and "bad mouth" someone for the purpose of either putting them down or building ourselves up. We may critize others in an attempt to deflect our own fears of inadequacy and insecurity.
Gossip can range from insightful storytelling or social therapy to destructive behavior that diminshes others and ourselves. An important thing to remember about gossip is well stated in the Spanish proverb: "He who gossips with you will also gossip about you."
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