The Purpose of Gossip

by Aiona

During the past week Ann and Sylvia organized a couple of our morning trainings around the theme of sexual harassment, which brought up some interesting responses from a few people, myself included, about harassment in general, and teasing in particular. Then, this weekend, I read an interesting article in Scientific American Mind about the purpose of gossip, teasing included, called Is Gossip Always Bad.

The short of it is, no, gossip has a real evolutionary purpose and that’s why everyone does it. The idea that impressed me the most is that the threat of gossip and teasing can act as a negative incentive for acting outside of the implicitly aggreed upon group norms. It’s a strategy for keeping people from acting in ways that negatively impact the group, or that allow one person to dominate. In this way, small communities encourage altruistic behavior and prevent power hierarchies.

Do we do this in our group? Absolutely. As an explainer I am very clear on the fact that I will be ridiculed and humiliated until my ego is ground into the dirt if I do not behave myself. It’s actually a very effective system, and not a negative one if it promotes healthy values. So here’s the real question I have. Please help me answer it if you have some thoughts”:

What group values are we reinforcing through this system?