Sunday, November 27, 2011
When Gossip Is Good, from Scandals to Relationships
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing, argues a new book. “Other people is the world’s most fascinating subject,” writes Joseph Epstein in Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit, which is as much a history of the form as it is a book of dirt (like that Liz Taylor bit). The veteran essayist may be onto something: mounds of research in psychology and sociology support the notion that gossip can be a force for good.
Perhaps most obviously, gossip—which Epstein defines as “two people saying something about a third party that they don’t want known” helps to expose wrongdoing. Think Watergate, Abu
Ghraib, and News of the World. All three scandals became scandals because someone inside felt something was wrong and spoke up. On the flip side, at Penn State, more gossip among college and charity employees could have helped to prevent profound suffering. If the two eyewitnesses to Jerry Sandusky’s brutal abuse of young boys had told more people and sooner, the former assistant coach might have been arrested a decade ago. Even bits of suspicion and uncertainty, when woven together, could have removed him from endangering children.