Inside Out – The Craze for Negative Gossip

At the moment, the world is a buzz with news of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes split. It’s like the media is having a field day and the public is lapping it up. Speculation on top of speculation, discussions of what went wrong and why things didn’t work out, and it goes on and on and on.  It’s the latest thing to hit news stands. Initially, I wondered why the media even bothered. Divorce after all, is pretty common. A child from a broken home is no longer a minority, and where in 1980 women were supposed to either die alone or pine away waiting for what’s his face to come back, now it’s accepted that they move on. However, when I took a closer look, gossiping and talking about other people, especially in a negative way, is a big part of life.

People love scandal.  When there isn’t one, they create one. It’s a story to tell.  It’s also probably why reality TV is selling so well.  Think about it. How many conversations have there been about the weird family member, or the bitch your dad/brother/cousin/uncle married? Then go to the office, and listen to how many conversations there are about the disgusting prick who looks up people’s skirts, or the chick who sticks her boobs out at people.  How long do people talk about it when an actor or singer stalks her ex and signs her name on his front door with blood? On the other hand, how long do people go on about the star who adopted a child with one leg from a third world country? Its like, “so this person adopted this child, isn’t it nice?” end of story.

Back to your own lives. When you, your friends or your families speak of your exes, in what light are they spoken of? My uncle’s story is a classic example of this. His ex wife is forever immortalized along with my dad’s ex wife (the one he cheated on my mum with), and the ex wife of one of my other uncles.  Why? Well, they feed it. Not the ladies who are not even present to defend themselves, but the men who are a part of the family. The nice exes have disappeared into oblivion, with an odd photo in an odd album here and there.  But the point is people love these awful stories.

In a way, gossiping is a means of connecting. For example, at work, you generally don’t have much in common with your colleagues, and you might want to keep personal boundaries, so the only common ground of conversation apart from talking about work might be that weird person who picks their nose in the corner.  Outside of work, you have friends and you have acquaintances.  Tip – friends are the ones who want to know the real answer when they ask you how you’re doing, and these are the people whose lives you really want updates on.  Acquaintances are the ones you start a conversation with like this, “so, have you heard that Kim Kardashian/Snooki/that oily fella from Jersey Shore….” Disclaimer: if Kim Kardashian/the oily dude from Jersey Shore really do play a massive role in your life and are the only things you can talk about, then you should stop the gossip parade and worry about yourself for a bit.

When we lived in communities, we probably didn’t have stars to gossip about, and people knew so much more about each other. But in those communities, when the word spread that someone needed assistance, the community would gather to help. Without phones, the internet and the like, word got around through the grapevine. If you wanted to avoid awkward conversations, you couldn’t publish your divorce on Facebook, so you would rely on a kindly relative or neighbour letting people know. The other side of it is that it could go way out of context and a whole story could be written from speculation.

Then, today, and although we hope not, probably tomorrow, people are drawn to the negative stories. I know people who spend hours talking about lonely single friends/family issues/commitment issues and any sort of negative thing you can think of.  But when there is amazing news of someone getting pregnant, or someone getting a great boyfriend, they lose interest in the person immediately.  Some take it to another level and try to “fix” the situation. It makes me wonder why. Is it compassion or is it pity? Compassion denotes empathy for the suffering of others, but it keeps them at the same level as us.  Pity on the other hand, is when we think that someone has less than we do, and puts them at a level lower than us.  It’s easy to mix up, and takes self examination to pin down.

Maybe lapping up negative gossip about others makes us feel like we’re better off than them. Maybe it justifies our actions. Maybe it’s time to stop looking outward so much, and start looking inside. Maybe it’s time to stop hearing stories of the crazy ex and thinking, “thank goodness I’m not that insane.”  I once dated a kid who was in a relationship with someone else. He said she was a controlling crazy bitch (note that cheaters say stuff to this effect) and I wanted to believe him, not because I knew her, but because it justified what I was doing. In the end, it didn’t and I couldn’t go on. I had become the crazy bitch because my conscience didn’t sit well with this.

Perhaps it goes back to who we have become as a society. We focus outward, on the suffering/stories/lives of others. We run around and help friends get out of bad relationships when we know 15% of the story and we push other friends to date because it’s “normal.”  We impose our opinions on the lives of other people, speculate and judge. And maybe the truth is that it keeps us from looking at our own lives. Fear is a strange thing. Sometimes you’re afraid to look at your own lives/relationships/feelings because they might not be as great as you say they are on Facebook.  And sometimes, you look outward thinking your lives/relationships/feelings are not great because they’re not like anyone else’s, when the truth is, you’re afraid to admit that they really are.   Perhaps it’s as easy as observing if you focus your negative eye externally or internally, and giving it a good clean.

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