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Remember when everyone used to think telephone was the most wonderfully hilarious game in the world? Part of the humor in it was the fact that none of the starting phrases came out even remotely intact at the last person. My second-grade class was particularly great at mangling phrases beyond recognition. The teacher, in an attempt to test our communication skills, set us the phrase “cold fridge.” It was chewed over down the lines of communication, and when finally spit out at the last person, ‘cold fridge’ had somehow morphed into ‘pink elephant.’ It is unclear if it was an example of just how wonderful seven year olds are at listening, or if some joker in the middle had purposefully twisted the phrase for laughs.
Gossiping is quite similar to playing telephone. People love to do it, and half the fun is in seeing the distorted versions of the originating truth. The root of truth is twisted and bent in every direction but the right one for dramatic purposes. As a result, what you learn by gossiping is often utter untruth, even in this day and age when everything is about science and factual statements. The impacts of gossiping are first and foremost severe psychological damage to the victims of the slander, especially when it is amongst adolescents. Furthermore, the constant betrayals of confidence which gossiping inherently entails has caused the breakdown of fundamental relationships in contemporary society. We must start to regard gossiping as less of a vice and more of an actual sociological problem. Then, we must work together to implement a viable solution to this epidemic.
According to Sheryl Gonda from PBS, gossip is talk about a person which may be true or false, and deals with subjects that are shocking and personal. She splits gossip into many different types, two of which we will focus upon: slander, and dishing. Slander is further defined as rumors or lies spread about a particular person with the intent to hurt them. Dishing is defined as the general spreading of rumors without the aim to cause pain, but may end up causing humiliation and hurt just the same. These two types of gossip are more commonly associated with adolescents, but also occur in the everyday workplace.
But why do humans gossip? A 2006 article by the American Psychological Association states that: “Children use gossip to form social alliances, just like adults.” Gossip’s primary function in contemporary society is to serve as a social bonder – in other words, it helps people feel acceptance as part of a group. How often have you seen a group of people excitedly chattering over something? When you share something that is considered with another person, you feel as if you have created a type of link with them, feel as if you are ‘accepted’ by someone. Acceptance within a group comforts people with a feeling that they have people they can rely on as allies, and if gossiping helps with forming these groups – why not do it?
However, we must consider the ramifications of gossiping. Severe psychological damage is brought upon the victim of the gossip. A 2006 experiment concluded in the Journal of Educational Psychology that children rejected by their peers are more likely to withdraw from classroom activities and suffer academically. Furthermore, gossiping which humiliates the victim leads to social rejection, one large factor in causing depression, especially profound in adolescents. Stronger dependence on social ties increase the chances of teen depression being triggered by social factors, such as loss of friends, says Michael Corbin, Director of everyminute.org. Over 20 percent of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood, and a large percentage is caused by social reasons, most of which connect with gossiping. A large percentage of teen depressions go untreated, and untreated depression can lead to long-term consequences, including less efficient work, continued psychosomatic illnesses, and decreased ability to socialize with peers. Furthermore, individuals who have suffered from depression are also more prone to substance abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 21 percent of adults who had experienced a major depressive breakdown engaged in substance abuse, compared with 8 percent of those not dealing with depression. It is clear that gossiping results in severe psychological damage not only in children but also adults, the consequences of which may well last their entire lives.
People often can’t keep the lid on secrets that they are privy to, due to the lure of momentary attention which comes with divulging a scandalous piece of gossip. However, the constant leaking of private matters by supposed friends has led to the spreading inability to put trust and faith in others, and therefore influencing our ability to make new friends. This is true even beyond the schoolyard rumor mill. According to Beth Weiseenberger, CEO and co-founder of The Handel Group, a life-coaching company, “Office gossip kills camaraderie and morale. It's also a way for teams to avoid holding difficult conversations.” When team relationships are strained, the foundation upon which all modern businesses are based upon, teamwork, begins to break down, which will eventually cause the collapse of the contemporary business operandi. Overall, gossip spread with the intent to disclose secrets which another has confided in you leads to the breakdown of fundamental relationships in society.
But what can we do to stop it? Everyone working together to complete changes in the primary behaviors which causes gossip can help accomplish this. People must keep track of what they’re saying. It might be cheesy, but do unto others as you would others do unto you. Never say something that you would not want someone else saying about you. This will be an imperative step in stopping insensitive, malicious gossip, which can cause grave, unforeseen impacts upon the victim of your gossip. It might be fun to bond with friends over the many flaws of new girl in school, but it’s certainly not pleasant to be on the receiving end.
Respect the trust that others put in you by telling you their innermost secrets, and respect the privacy of others. Don’t so lightly betray your friends’ trust. A good friendship lasts forever. The attention that you will gain by spilling the secret, however, will only last a minute at most. Furthermore, don’t slander your colleagues or peers; even if you are certain that what you’re saying is true, because whatever the actual truth is, everyone has their basic fundamental human right to privacy.
Today, we have examined the reasons for gossiping, the problems they cause, and reasonable solutions which everyone can participate in to try to stop the viral influence gossip has had upon our contemporary society. As John Maynard Keynes, a famous British economist once observed: “In the long run, we’re all dead.” However, in the short run, we can all work together to do what we can to change our society into a better place.
. "Teen Depression Statistics." Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.teendepression.org/stats/teenage-depression-statistics/.
(1913). Gossip Caused Suicide. The New York Times, The New York Times.
(2006, March 29, 2006). "Schoolyard Blues: Impact of Gossiping and Bullying." Retrieved June 26, 2011, from http://www.apa.org/research/action/blues.aspx.
(2007, June 15, 2011). "The Long Term Effects of Depression." Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.servier.co.uk/disease-information/depression/long-term-effects-of-depression.asp.
Gonda, S. (2005). "Gossips And Rumors: Why Do People Do It?". Retrieved June 25, 2011, from http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/friends/rumors/article4.html.
Nicholson, N. (2001, December 10, 2010). "The New Word on Gossip." Retrieved June 25, 2011, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200105/the-new-word-gossip.
Thompson Jr., D. (2009, July 13, 2009). "Depression and Substance Abuse." Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/depression-and-substance-abuse.aspx.
Weissenberger, B. (2009). "Gossip in the Workplace." Retrieved June 27, 2011, from http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/nov2009/ca2009113_999372.htm.
Keynes, John Maynard. (1923). "A Tract on Monetary Reform." Retrieved June 29, 2011, from http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/econ_articles/reviews/monetaryreform.html.
Corbin, Michale. (2009). “Depression Help for Children 11-15.” Retrieved June 30, 2011, from http://www.everyminute.org/blog.cgi?action=view&id=26.
(2010). “Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and Prevention.” Retrieved June 29, 2011, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml#children.