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Gossip – is it true, is it kind, is it useful?

Monday 5 December 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Opinion

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Gossip – is it true, is it kind,  is it useful?
Ruta Tangiiau Mave. Photo: CI NEWS

There are no good ends to those who like to gossip with unconstrained conversation about other people without confirming if they are true, writes Ruta Mave.

Game of thrones Lord Varys with his bald head and flowing robes roamed through the hidden corridors of the House of Targaryen. He was the master of whispers known as the Spider for the webs of lies and deceit he weaved to foster division amongst the enemies of the Iron Throne. He had a skill at providing information to all sides, pitting enemies against each other and of manipulation to achieve his own ends. His reputation is unworthy even though he claimed to value order and loyalty. He died for treason by the fiery breath of his master’s dragon.

There are no good ends to those who like to gossip with unconstrained conversation about other people without confirming if they are true. The emotional attraction of gossip to the human psyche is to hurt.

Gossip was a powerful tool for the powerless in ancient Greece and remains the same today. A master would worry that a slave might see or hear something which could end up being used against them in a court of law or public opinion.

Greek goddess Pheme or fame or rumor was a horrible winged creature who delighted in ruffling her feathers, beneath which lay a prying eye, a pricked ear and a wagging tongue. She flew quickly from place-to-place gabbling and screeching lies and half-truths to anyone who would listen.

Slaves and low status women could use gossip as their only weapon against their enemies. This propensity to gossip by members of society opened up conduits between the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, the master and the servant. A juicy story was the entertainment of the day back then.

The fascination with idle gossip is still a favourite past time with people from all walks of life. Day time dramas like Coronation St, Eastenders, Shortland St, Days of our Lives, and General Hospital thrive on it.

Aristotle saw it as trivial and enjoyable pastime but also saw that it could have malicious intent. Malicious gossip could damage a person’s reputation and irreparably hurt them. Ancient Athens court decisions were made on character evaluation and less on hard evidence. Lynch mobs were often driven by a damaging gossip than from pure truth. The Trump Clinton election campaign 2016 was a fine example.

Socrates, the Greek philosopher, shunned gossip by asking three questions. He would first ask “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true? – No? Then you don’t know if it is true or not”. Secondly, “Is it something good?” No? So, you want to say something bad about the person even though you don’t know if it is true. Third “Will this information be useful to me?” No?  Then, “If what you are about to tell me, is neither True nor Good or of any use to me, why tell me at all?”

The entertainment factor of gossip is too ‘juicy’ to ignore and with social media, harsh gossip used to assassinate and defame an opponent’s character, for one’s own advantage, can go viral and be taken at face value before it’s possible to check it out.

In the quest for land, one may try to win advantage by spreading gossip of the other saying how they are evil or how they mistreat the gossiper. When laying the groundwork of deceit, the gossiper adding a little ‘Hollywood’ acting to the mix, can appear the victim. With little to no proof to such whispers they throw doubt on the character of the other. 

Gossip has a way of convincing people that the person they met or knew is not what they first thought – if it comes from someone of higher status like an employer. Justifying wrongful dismissals can be done by spreading rumors about the employee they had done something bad when no evidence is presented.

Spoken with conviction susceptible crowds are easily led with misinformation they physically shun the victim of gossip as if they have been tried and convicted.

Truth should prevail, the stains on one’s reputation, should all come out in the wash of either ‘time will tell’ or simply by going to ask ‘the other side of the story’, and ‘hear it from the horse’s mouth’. 

Once you have the words of both, observe how they act around others. Check your gut feelings and decide who you believe and does it really concern you. If you feel someone is being wrongly accused by gossip then say I don’t believe it.

The power of the word is strong and many victims of malicious rumours have chosen to take their own lives rather than live with being ostracised from society. Next time someone says ‘Did you hear about?’ Ask them and yourself – is it true, is it kind, is it useful?