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Does Gossip Have Benefits?


By Scott Swain
 
According to some, gossip can actually be beneficial. I would like to dispel that idea by showing how there is more benefit to abstaining from gossip. I am not saying "gossip is always bad". I'm sure there are times when information needs to be shared. My argument is for "most of the time gossip does more harm than benefit". Or you can say I'm making a case for a general rule against gossip.

First, some popular assumed benefits of gossip:

Alerting potential victims to potential harm; and

Bonding over a common enemy

Let's dive in and talk about these two potential benefits of gossip. More often than not, the intention is to negatively influence people's opinion of a person not present to defend themselves.

First, we can see the dishonesty which is part of spreading  news about a person "behind their back." I think it is easy to agree there are many benefits of practicing honesty.

Next, is this the kind of bond we want to have and want to encourage others to have; a bond over not liking a person or people? How about a preference instead for bonding over making the world a more wonderful place or where we own our feelings and needs?

I propose that most of us want to live in a world where we "like" and/or "trust" more people rather than less and that we typically want people to share our values. If we ask ourselves, "What actions can I take that are more likely to influence another person to be more in line with my values?" I doubt the answer would be to support and spread a story of that person as being out of line with your values. It's the old "self-fulfilling prophecy" cliche in action.

I propose going deeper to understand the person doing the gossiping. Not only do we learn more about them and create a deeper connection but we also benefit from the practice of understanding other people's motivations and our own behavior (of being compassionate instead of allowing/spreading gossip-type behavior) is noted and contributes to more compassion in the world.

Going Deeper:
Why do people gossip?

It is a strategy to meet a need. That need will usually be one of the following:

Connection/Acceptance/Respect - by showing I know private things about people, I appear greater in the eyes of my listener(s) and/or feel a greater sense of connection to them;

Self-acceptance/self-respect - by comparing another person's perceived negative qualities to my own, I am able to see myself in a more beneficial light;

Meaning/Contribution - by protecting others, I can feel that I'm making a contribution to my community; and

Joy - enjoyment of drama

How do I deal with gossip?

The first step is to keep in mind the gossiper's primary goal is to meet their need for connection, self-acceptance, meaning, and/or joy. This knowledge allows us to stay connected to our compassion for the gossiper.

This allows us to address the underlying need like:

"I hear what you are saying about Bob losing his job. Are you feeling sad and wish there is a way you could prevent that loss?"

or

"I get uncomfortable hearing the details of Susie and Paul's relationship. I'm wondering if you would be willing to share how the situation affects you instead of telling me what happened?"








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Socrates on gossip

Gary Baran on gossip

Wise Heart on gossip

Scott Swain paraphrasing unknown author:
"When we protect a person, we deprive them of the opportunity to defend themselves and/or learn a lesson. I believe it is important to always give special consideration when our actions may change another person's path."




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