A few years ago, I completed my Masters in Leadership and did my thesis on gossip. It was a topic which fascinated me, as I found gossip present when I would come to workplaces in conflict to help create more harmony and relational wellbeing again.
Firstly, I discovered that gossip in the research is defined as speaking evaluatively about someone who is not present, whether the comments are negative or positive. I was surprised to discover that gossip is a complex topic and that it’s been badly maligned. Gossip not only has both negative and positive functions, it’s unstoppable anyway, so trying to stop it is futile and only pushes it further underground.
What I discovered it that we must work with gossip,not against it. As a mediation colleague I admire once said: “Define or be defined.” That is one of the positive functions of gossip, that you can use the gossip mill in positive ways, to spread positive stories.
I discovered another positive dimension to gossip recently through noticing more dynamics with conflicted parties.
It’s common when there is tension between two people, especially in workplaces where the communities are small, for the friends of each of the parties to comment on the tensions to the person they “side” with. That is, if E and R are in conflict, E’s friends will comment to E about R’s unusual behaviours and vice versa. Think of the expression: the tension in the room was so thick you could cut it with a knife. It’s not just the two people who might have tension between them; other people notice as well,
That got me thinking that gossip means you are not alone. We are all embedded in community and when somebody is sharing their perceptions of someone not present, it is a way of the community talking about itself to itself.
Gossip, in its original form, described that delicate time when a newborn arrived in the world. Those who love the child would gathered around and talk about the child, creating a divine kinship. This is the context for the word, a sharing of divinity about someone – “God-ship.”
What if we could get back to that original meeting? When we speak about each other can we keep in mind our original childlike divinity as we God-ship about each other to each other?
Remembering the divine in each other can change the nature of gossip. If we assume the one being gossiped about may also have positive qualities and best intentions, the gossip can be about how to bring the other back into the fold.
Let’s look at gossip as a type of community building, a chance for the community to talk about itself to itself.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” … John Donne