Is gossip merely trivial worthless babbling and chatter? Or does it serve a cultural purpose much more profound?
The fact of the matter is what Webster dictionary describes as “habitually revealing sensational facts about others in the form of chatty talk” is a universal cultural attribute. From a little village in Lithuania to Manhattan, men and women practice this time honored tradition with regularity—some with more fervor than others.
Commenting on women’s oral culture, feminist theorist Deborah Jones has praised the bonding role gossip plays amongst women by describing it as, “a way of talking between women in their roles as women , intimate in style , personal and domestic in topic and setting.” To be sure, women do not have a monopoly on gossip, as men do it more often than they are willing to admit. Thus to take an essentialist stance on the notion of gossip is a folly.
From a philosophical standpoint, I should like to put a Daosit lens on this cultural practice. Like many other forms of communication amongst human beings such as small talk neighbors have with each other or the trivial question and answers that go on between merchants and their customers, it is not the content that matters in gossip. In fact, I argue that the content is irrelevant. It is the naturalness of it that makes gossip an integral part of the way of going about living. We intuitively understand the interconnectivity of humans and one of the ways we reinforce this connectivity is through gossip. In many ways gossip is a medium that brings us closer together. Of course, from a Buddhist perspective gossip is alright so long as we can say the sensational stories about a person behind his or her back, also in his or her presence. That is one way to keep the content of gossip ethically sound—an ethics of gossip, if you will.