Thursday, March 15, 2007


Many years from now, when future psychologists study the interaction of individual human beings with their peer groups, I wouldn't be surprised if the psychologists concluded that - over time, 'gossiping' commanded near monopoly in market for 'tools to forge new friendships'. I have been surprised at amount of friendships, super-conversations that can be credited to gossip or bitching. Much like the way breast-feeding nourishes infants, gossiping acts as a crutch that nurtures nascent group-friendships before the friendship can sustain itself in an auto pilot mode. My initial theory on why people gossip wasn't much different from my theory on why people stereotyped. Self-esteem. By gossiping, people pretend/assume for a fleeting moment that their lives are somehow better than the gossiped-about person. The Gossip-content provides you with amazing latitude/scope to differentiate yourself from the gossiped-target. It also allows you to indirectly advertise possession of certain virtues/attributes, by simply claiming that the gossip-target lacks them (For example by bitching about another person's dishonesty, you can indirectly advertise to your peer group that you are an honest person). However, on superficial inspection - the urge to improve self-esteem and subsequent actions to satisfy the urge - are perceived as voluntary human behavior. Gossiping is perceived as voluntary behavior - that you indulge in it out of your own choice. Is gossiping voluntary or do we just assume it is so because of the alleged non-zero possibility that it can be avoided?

I would assume that when a person is gossiping with a group of friends, there is some part of the person's mind that instinctively warns the person that 'gossiping' is wrong. However, ignoring the instinct is as easy as eating potato chips when you are on a diet. You probably ignore it because you have cheated yourself into believing that you aren't as 'gossipy' as some people in your peer-group. And this brain-washed state gives you the latitude for some indulgence ( I have dieted/worked-out so much - a little potato chips can't hurt me) Every time human beings think some other person in their group is a "gossiper" - do they step-back and analyze themselves? Do they know that they are being perceived the same way just because they participated in the conversation without protesting? On the other hand, should you oppose gossip every time you encounter it? As an experiment if we arrange group structures in such a way that one member resists gossip, or says something against the phenomena of gossip, would the person be perceived as odd or weird? Will the oddness be accentuated if the person resists gossip in the context of a nascent friendship? Can that human being consistently resist gossip across different set of friend-groups? Will the person succumb in a more mature friend-group ( a group of best-friends). According to me 100% of humans will or have already succumbed to gossip. But only a minuscule (say around 0.1%) of those actually are actually self-aware because they take that step-back and do a self-analysis. A surprising number of people truly believe that they aren't gossipers. When clearly their actions indicate that they are. Confronting them is as futile as this post on gossip. It provides personal pleasure but no external change. I don't want to be judgemental and I am trying hard to phrase my words so that it doesn't sound judgemental (because by default people assume that anybody who writes about gossip is doing so to condemn it). I am just fascinated by the lure of other people's troubles. Why is another person's misery/handicap/failing so sexy? Other people's (lack of) intelligence, low grades, affairs, love-interest, past, accent, dressing-sense, hand-writing, cooking-skills, nail-cutting skills, dancing skills are such alluring topics to gossip about? It could be extremely insignificant, however, does the fact that gossip could lead to a 15-minute super conversation and a possible friendship (maybe a date or some sack time) make it so irresistible?

I am not so naive to write a post condemning gossip. I am also not stupid enough to believe that people who condemn 'bitching' never really bitch. It is an excellent candidate for being a fundamental instinct. Even the daily News, which is a N-billion dollar industry, is a sophisticated form of gossip. And discussing news is akin to gossiping. Forget the pretense we put out there to satisfy our daily dose of hypocrisy. I am interested in knowing why? Is it semi-involuntary? Like masturbation. What DNA? What aspect of our psyche/biology makes it so appealing? Remember Joey's stable-boy fascination for the princess. Is it so sexy because it is taboo? Lets say you are an outlier, like a gossip-lesbian who is more interested in talking about people who are present (like yourself) - Vs - those who are absent (unlike yourself), and you feel that gossiping is bad, how do you resist the urge to gossip? Will this anti-group behavior be noticed the way homo-sexual behavior is noticed and would it be considered 'not-normal' (which, recursively, is a gossip topic in itself after you have left). Why do humans feel the urge to gossip? Is it like adolescent masturbation, a primitive-biological-pleasure-calling that has been unnecessarily juxtaposed with an opposing 'guilt' DNA instinct?


vidhu said...

Why do people gossip? A lot of reasons - to make friends, to get a date, to boast, to just talk and a lot more as you outlined.

But the underlying reason is that we really do want to know how and why the other person is, say, always wearing a pink coat with the red tie. Gossiping is a way of knowledge exchange; a wiki-like attempt to understand the complicated nature of humanity (and a way to solve the Mystery of the Pink Coat and Red tie). It's all about getting into the other person's head using all our heads!

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Very interesting post --- but I think we gossip more to use others as a sounding board for our opinions, and to feel good about ourselves by evaluating the rest of humanity's existence. Sorry if that didn't make sense :)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


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MLC said...

your 'thesis' makes full sense!
and talking about gossip .. "anantha, ohio le irukumbodhu" nu oru teaser paadheele thonga vidraarey .. unga reco use panni, avara andha vishayaththa finish panna sonna, ungalukku koadi punyam saerum;-)!!

Babs said...

Coimbatore is know as the gossip town of south..their worst gossip is like "dei aven avane pondatiyode ooty poirukan daaa"......u feel like sayin "vun pondati yoda poley laa" :-)

If you notice actually we never gossip, its our ego that does like u pointed out to make us feel betta or superior, though this might only be a type from various other that exists out there.

very interesting indeed.

Anu said...

Good post Hawkeye! You certainly have a way with words. Kudos.


Anonymous said...

human survival relies on being a social animal .. and gossip may just be helpful to maintain the social animal status ..

the ego and self-esteem connections may be true as well ..