June 7, 2014

Got Gossip? ~ Karen Salmansohn

gossip women girls secret talk

Here’s another good piece on gossip from my favourite self-help-for-people-who-wouldn’t-be-caught-doing-self-help author, Karen Salmansohn.

I love this essay because I come from a small community (singing) where everybody knows your name. (That’s from the TV show Cheers for those born after 1980.)

Gossip used to bug me, but now that I’ve written a book I’m begging people to talk about me! But that’s not the only reason gossip isn’t all bad. Read on to see Karen’s take on talking behind each others’ backs.


Why do people gossip?

First, I’ll start with some interesting research about gossip—which shows gossip to have a positive benefit—research you might find surprising! Then I’ll explore how best to deal with gossip.

According to psychologist Robin Dunbar, we’re evolutionary hard-wired for gossip. It is the human equivalent of the “social grooming” seen among our primate cousins—where they pick out nits and twigs from each other’s fur to bond and feel close.

Hmm…you know that positive phrase “to keep in touch with someone?” It sort of sounds like the definition of animals’ “Nit-n-Twig Plucking with each other,” doesn’t it?

Here’s another unusual theory on gossip:

According to psychologist Geoffrey Miller, gossip evolved as a helpful courtship device—as the human equivalent of a peacock tail. Basically, gossip is what we humans use to compete for and attract sexual partners, because it’s how we “advertise” or “self-promote” our social status, values, and intelligence. According to Miller, gossip can be a “Do I Bond Or Not Bond Determinator!” It’s what reveals which behaviors you and other people find acceptable (or unacceptable) and thereby if you find your gossiper or gossipee acceptable or unacceptable for further socialization purposes!

With this in mind, to become a far more popular member of a group (aka our office, organization, local community) just listen more carefully to this group’s critical gossip; we’ll quickly discover people’s boundaries and rules and thereby know what to do—or not do—to make sure we’re a welcomed member of this group.

Here’s another unusual positive benefit to gossip:

Gossip has been shown to improve health! Just as “social grooming” between primates stimulates endorphins, making animals more relaxed, the “vocal grooming” we call gossip also been researched to relax humans and lower blood pressure. It’s what keeps us feeling connected and bonded—like we are part of a group—rather than socially isolated. The more connected people feel, the better their health.

Obviously all of this research offers a wildly positive outlook on gossip. Meanwhile, back in reality, let’s face it: gossip can hurt!

I don’t know if animals feel pain in their “social grooming” version of gossip—when they’re picking out nits and twigs from each other’s fur. However I do know that in our human version of gossip, picking on one another can feel highly painful.

What to do?

If someone’s gossiping about us negatively, it helps if we remind ourselves that it’s usually because they are trying to bring us down to raise themselves up—because they feel low self esteem.

My thoughts on the subject:

Stop wasting time wondering what others think about us. It’s more important what we think of ourselves. Are we living true to our heart and kind to the hearts of others? Feel free to do a self check in—and often. Remember, if someone has a full and happy life, they won’t have time to sit around talking about us!

Karen’s original essay can be found here.

Remember the silver lining: if we’re important enough to be talked about, at least we’re important enough to be talked about.


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