In a failed attempt at humor, one of my favorite program hosts on Mississippi Public Radio declared “Southern People talk about each other and it’s Okay as long as it’s wrapped in kind words like “Bless Her heart”. We all talk. Talking is how we share our thoughts, ideas, and experiences to people around us. Truthfully, though, conversations don’t last long if they contain only goodness and light so most people gossip and have throughout history. It’s gossip, the negative stuff that keeps tongues wagging. Because it has such a long history and because we have created so many words to describe the process, it must have value. Right?
This got my wondering if parent teach their children to gossip. If they do, should they? And will they when they understand this behavior’s many sides, and side affects? Let’s examine the topic more fully.
At first glance, gossip might seem like fun. It can feel like you are in a private club where you and your friends are in the know bonding and whispering about other people. We can learn things through gossip. Gossip can give us the heads-up about what’s going on in the social order. It can make us feel like we belong, connected and are accepted by others. These are the positive aspects of gossiping. Then there is the other side, and the side affects.
Talking about people in a negative way is contagious to the gossiper and dangerous to it’s victim. The root of gossip is negativity, judgmentalism, slander, and is designed to hurt or destroy someone’s reputation. Gossip is not just a bad habit but a disorder that captures the person’s body, mind and spirit. Getting the next sensational tidbit is so thrilling it stimulates chemicals in the brain (Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin and Endorphin) and may become addictive like alcohol or drugs. The more sensational the material, the better and the more demanding gossip becomes. A little is never enough. The mouth becomes a weapon that needs ammunition to keep firing. To get the scoop, gossips must snoop, spy, and meddle into other peoples’ affairs to find, create and share rumors. Uncovering sensational details is thrilling and hooks both the gossip and the listener.
But, people use gossip for their own selfish interests at the expense of others. Gossiping makes them feel powerful and needed. But people who gossip with you will also might gossip about you. Gossips often distort and exaggerate and are rarely a reliable source of truth. Gossips can’t be trusted and think nothing of betraying a confidence.
It doesn't feel good to be on the receiving end of gosssips’ wrath. People who are negatively gossiped about are often shunned or forsaken and are rarely able to clear their names. Having your stuff out there breeds hostility, anger, shame, and resentment.
Chances are, rumors and gossip are always floating around in your and your children’s schools and in the community. Rarely is it harmless. It can be very hurtful to individuals, friendships, and whole groups of people.
Are your children participating in gossiping?
What’s a parent to do?
1. First, recognize, if you gossip, you’re modeling the rules of the game to your children and they’re likely to do it too.
2. Know that, deep down, gossiping makes the gossip look bad.
3. Unless someone is in danger, refuse to listen or pass on the gossip. Change the subject and walk away. Without scolding or shaming, you’re letting the person know you’re not condoning the behavior.
4. Remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” Which do you want for your children?
5. Finally remember, gossip always contributes to a problem and never to a solution.
© Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. June 21, 2013 2013
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical in Springfield, Illinois for more than 40 years. She now lives and writes in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.