What was your reaction to what was being whispered to you? Did you smile and laugh? Did you think something along the lines of, "Yeah, he/she WOULD do that!" or "They are such a Bitch/Bastard!"? In other words, did you agree with the opinions expressed alongside the juicy bit of news being passed on? Was it funny? Did you feel like the person being gossiped about deserved it?
Alot of the time, when this happens it's intent is harmless enough. People talk and generally, when they do, they talk about the people they have in common with one another. And the information gets stored in the brain as 'hmm interesting information' to be forgotten or only vaguely remembered later on.
Other times, gossip can take hold and be passed from person to person getting worse and worse as it travels from mouth to ear to mouth.
Have you ever played a game, or heard of a game, where kids sit in a circle and one person starts with a single statement like 'the goose plays in the pond' and pass it around by whispering it into the ear of the person sitting next to them?
And as it travels from child to child, it statement mutates into something else. Perhaps one child changes it from a goose to a duck. And then another child changes it from a pond to a park. And yet another child adds toys to it. By the time it reaches the ears of the first child, it's completely different. Well, that is essentially gossip.
But what is gossip specifically and what is it used for most of the time? Hmm...let's see, shall we?
What is gossip?
Gossip is idle talk or rumour, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It forms one of the oldest and most common means of sharing (unproven) facts and views, but also has a reputation for the introduction of errors and other variations into the information transmitted. The term also carries implications that the news so transmitted (usually) has a personal or trivial nature, as opposed to normal conversation.
What function does gossip serve?
- normalise and reinforce moral boundaries in a speech-community
- foster and build a sense of community with shared interests and information
- build structures of social accountability
- further mutual social grooming (like many other uses of language, only more so)
- provide a mating tool that allows (for example) women to mutually identify socially desirable men and compare notes on which men are better than others.
- be used as a form of passive aggression, as a tool to isolate and harm others
- provide a peer-to-peer mechanism for disseminating information in organizations
Are there different types of gossip?
Sure...let's look at some because some of them can be more harmful than others.
Gossip And Rumors: Different Types
- Slander is when people spread rumors or lies about a person in order to purposely cause pain or damage. Maybe they want to see this person humiliated or turn others against him or her. They make up lies or pass on embarrassing rumors that probably aren’t true.
- Most of the time, we only hear the word “slander” associated with adult conflicts, but it applies to young people as well.
- When slander is in written form, it’s called libel. You’ve probably heard lots of stories about celebs suing tabloid newspapers because the papers have published libel against them. The celebs usually win!
- Slander is one of the most dangerous types of rumors, because the whole point is to hurt somebody.
- An example: “Teresa is a big cheat. She cheats off anyone she sits next to, so don’t ever sit near her.” This is hurtful to Teresa because not only is she being accused of doing something against the rules, her friends may stop sitting with her in class.
- You may hear people say, ”Give me the dish!” or “Let’s dish the dirt!” Dishing is another word for gossiping, and a kind of general spreading of rumors and gossip that people don’t usually think twice about.
- It’s a little different than slander, because most of the time, people don’t dish with the aim of causing someone pain and humiliation. However, sometimes it does just that.
- An example: “I asked Jenny what it was like to hold Andrew’s hand, and she said it was all clammy and sweaty.” This was probably an innocent question and answer driven by curiosity, but if it gets back to Andrew, he’ll feel totally embarrassed!
- Many rumors tap into people’s common fears, and this makes them sound true even though they usually are not.
- These are often rumors that involve the threat of physical danger, the unknown and unfamiliar, and things that are gross or way-out weird.
- An example: “I hear that the cafeteria meatloaf is made from rats they catch in the school basement.”
- Sometimes rumors start out as silly jokes, then get spread around and changed over and over again. When lots of people are telling the same tale, it makes it seem more like the truth. You might think, “How can all these people be wrong?”
- When these rumors last long enough and spread far enough, they actually become part of our culture, often called “Urban Legends,” “Modern Legends,” or “Urban Myths.”
- An example: “Did you hear that when it’s halftime at the Super Bowl, water supplies across the U.S. get used up? It’s because of all the people going to the bathroom at the same time!”
- Many rumors are just about people getting things wrong, or believing in exaggerations. Often people will swear up and down that they know something to be true when, in reality, they’re just passing on a rumor they’ve heard from someone.
- An example of a rumor that’s just misinformation: “I heard that it’s okay to drive five miles an hour above the speed limit. The police can’t give you a ticket unless you go faster than that.” For the record, this is not true. The speed limit is the speed limit, but this rumor is so widespread that people often use it as an excuse with police officers who are writing them speeding tickets!
- If you’ve ever heard something juicy in an online chat room or in an IM from a friend, you know that the Internet has made it easy to spread a rumor to lots of people with lightning-fast speed. “Cyber-gossip” can involve any of the other types mentioned here.
- It’s easy for people to feel less responsible when starting a rumor online, especially if they’re able to do it anonymously. Remember that starting a rumor this way, or passing it on, can be even more damaging than if it’s done in person because of how many eyes it can reach in a short period of time.
- A hurtful rumor that’s spread through cyber-gossip should be taken just as seriously as any other kind of rumor.
So now that we understand what gossip is, its function, and the different types of gossip that exist, let me ask you this. Have you ever been a victim of gossip or rumors? Has anyone ever maligned your character? How about sharing information about you that gets taken out of context?
And how did that impact you? Did it hurt? Did it make people look at you differently? Did it make you want to crawl into a hole and die of shame?
The vast majority of people in the world today, whether they answer truthfully or not, have probably been through some level of this issue and suffered for it. Contrary wise, though, the same amount can also be said to be the perpetrators of gossip and spreading rumors, as well. Hmm...interesting isn't it?
Excuses For Gossip
And of course the excuses range from the simplest forms of "I didn't do it." to justifications of their right to do it, even by changing its name from something like gossiping to networking.
Alot of the time excuses are made because the people who spread rumors and gossip about others, when confronted about their behavior, feel some level of shame. And they are generally caught off guard when an accusation occurs so they stammer out the first thing that pops into their minds.
From there it's not a far cry for the person being confronted to jump into their actual reasons for the gossip. This is a form of lashing out at the person confronting them, to shift the blame off themselves and onto the other person.
The thought occurs that if they can list all of the other person's sins, then their own behavior will be whitewashed in comparison or deemed more acceptable.
This is, by far, not the only reaction one will get when one confronts another person about gossip. But it is one of the most common reactions, as well.
Empaths and Gossip
Now, after reading all of this perhaps you are wondering what was the point? And honestly, what does this have to do with being an Empath, a person who is purported to be highly sensitive to the emotions and emotional states of others? Well, let's explore that a bit.
Empaths, simply put, aren't above spreading rumors and gossiping about people, despite how sensitive they are to other people. Because above being an Empath, they are people ~ human beings. And since this is an issue of human nature and not one specific to just Empaths....well, it applies to all of us, Empath and Non-Empath alike.
Being an Empath doesn't keep you from being a victim of rumors anymore than it holds your tongue from speaking harshly about others or spreading rumors about them. So as much as we, as Empaths, might wish to see ourselves above this, the reality is you aren't. And that's the point of this discussion.