What are some of the functions of gossip?
Whether gossip happens in our own minds, between people, or in the media, I can find at least two main functions of gossip.
In an evolutionary perspective, it seems that it makes sense for people to exchange information about others. When we do, and to the extent it is accurate, we have a better idea of what is going on, and that is often helpful. Even when it is not accurate, it serves to create a sense of intimacy among those who share gossip.
Gossip also serves an important function in terms of projections. We get familiar with a characteristic or dynamic in somebody else, and – if we are receptive to it – can then get familiar with it in ourselves.
There are also a couple of other projection-related functions of gossip.
Projections often get a little cartoonish in our own minds, a little to flat and one-dimensional, and we know that. For instance, we may see a successful or famous person as perfect and universally happy, and we not only know that it cannot be quite true, it also creates an uncomfortable sense of separation. So we are naturally drawn to gossip as a way to humanize others in our own mind, to see that they are not so different from ourselves after all.
Obviously, we can also use gossip to make us feel better about ourselves. Either, by putting someone down so we appear better. Or by pulling someone own from a pedestal so they – in our own mind – become an ordinary fallible human being like ourselves.
Finally, another function of gossip is that it often feels uncomfortable, in different ways, so we are invited to take a look at what is going on. Do I do it to put someone down? Can I find in myself what I gossip about in the other person? If I take time to see and feel it here, to own it, does anything shift in my inclination to gossip about it?