As I have mentioned many times in the past, we humans are complicated creatures. There exist two separate groups of inborn traits in us, which together make up our human nature: one making up the individual part of ourselves (selfishness, calculative-ness, aloofness, etc.); and the other making up the social (altruism, compassion, social interactions, cooperativeness, competitiveness, pride for one’s group, etc.).
We end up both complicated and conflictual. One of the particular traits is gossiping; that is, talking with friends about other common friends mostly behind their back, as it were, in a critical and demeaning way.
The practice is just not nice. It makes the person gossiping look like they are double faced. That is why gossiping has earned a bad reputation.
While the habit is indeed not nice, it may come as a surprise that this habit (which from time-to-time all of us are guilty of) also has a significant usefulness in the overall social behavior.
It is embedded in our brain, as a compulsion as it were, to readily whisper in the ear of the common friend about the shortcomings, and particular “misbehaviors”, of a friend. We cannot help it. We keep doing it even though many times if the friend we are gossiping about finds out — and usually they do — they become bitter and hurt, causing the social relationship to become “sour”. Yet, as I said, we just keep doing it.
Here are the positive components of this “bad” practice that is useful in our lives; social creatures as we are. It helps us to discharge our own personal tension that piles up out of our competitiveness, jealousy, and resentment for our friends successes. These resentments coexist side by side with affection and pride for the very friends we resent — conflictual creatures as we are!
It also helps us to reinforce the bonding with the friend we gossip with. Above all, gossiping helps to make it possible to accommodate conflictual elements in our relationships.
Strange as it may sound the practice reinforces the rules of social conduct of the whole group as we report during gossiping the “bad” behaviors that should not be practiced by the rest of the group.
So, we reinforce social rules both between the gossipers as well as the group. We spell out the “badness” of the gossiped-one; thus, implicitly demonstrate our own “goodness” as well as of the friend we gossiped with. Often and maliciously we go to an extreme and we try to knock down competitors unfairly. In addition we also have a tendency to be hypocritical; often proclaiming our pure intentions and goodness while secretly doing the opposite. This double-dealing behavior helps us to accommodate the conflictual nature of ours, as humans.
Are we then to believe that all of us are a little dishonest, on the side, and double deal knowingly? Not really, because in addition there is yet a component in our complex make-up that makes us humans. It is in the form of faculty which ensures that ourselves are “unaware”! Of such dishonesties it’s called the unconscious motivation. By that I mean that literally this faculty ensures that we do not see the obvious contradictions in our behavior. In fact we perceive ourselves falsely — that we are not this kind of people but kind, benevolent ,beyond jealousy or competition. This faculty, along with the other mentioned above, assists us in functioning as complicated as we are.
As an example, a married person — whether a women or a man — declares his criticism for a neighbor or a friend who was found cheating with his mate, while himself — say, a year earlier — did exactly the same. Even if he is confronted, he will declare “that was different” or state “I do not remember such a thing.” This faculty is a special form of unconsciousness.
Gossip along with hypocrisy are the lubricants in functioning as humans they together accommodate the conflictual nature of ours. And finally, with the help of the “unconscious” we also reinforce self esteem and set aside our own contradictions of our own presence of jealousy, competitiveness , and even malice we ourselves practice as we blame the one we gossip about for these “bad” behaviors.
So next time when you gossip behind the back of a friend, be a little gracious for both — yourself for doing it, and the friend you direct the gossip at — by avoiding being too harsh to either.