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  • Reverend James Squire

Gossip: The Snake That Hisses

Updated: Feb 12, 2021



Regarding human nature, I have often said that a significant percentage of my problems as Head Chaplain of a School could be solved quickly if it weren’t for gossip. I learned early on that the two s(s) are likes snakes that hiss. It is rumor that caused most of my problems in a large community for rumor has no basis in fact. Gossip can have a basis in fact. However, it does venture over into the land of gossip from time to time. Deborah Tannen, a linguistics teacher at Georgetown, has a lot to say about the function of gossip in society.

Gossip is said to be generally done by women as it is a way that can lead to a sense of involvement which is personal. Men generally choose to talk about events such as a team, sporting events, politics, or something that is the news.

Recall from another blog piece that generally speaking women are interested in rapport speech while men are more interested in report speech. Women are interested in communication, for the most part, that leads to a sense of involvement and men are interested in status.

Two well-known journalists, jimmy Breslin and Russell Baker, helped me to understand why I enjoy the works of the mystery writer, Robert B. Parker which are my bedtime reading. Breslin and Baker discovered that if you provide details about the story you are telling, this will cause the reader to feel more involvement with the narrative.

When a person in one of Parker’s novels enters a room, he describes the room, the weather, and what the people are wearing and what they look like. Thanks go to Deborah Tannen for that insight that details create involvement.

The Black Lives Matter and the Pandemic have been affected by gossip and rumor. When information is not forthcoming from the White House particularly about the Covid 19 virus, both men and women feel cut off and not involved in something that is a matter of literally life and death for them. A lack of transparency is an ongoing complaint. When you don’t feel as though you are involved in the facts and details of the matter, rumor is quick to become the basis of conversation.

When the President keeps referring to news he doesn’t like as fake news, it makes it even more difficult to discern facts from rumor and for people feeling connected to the truth. We have been introduced to the fact checker after political statements are made by both political parties. Fact checkers are the new searchers after truth. It appears that most people will accept a vaccine that has not been vetted by science.

There will always be conversation that is gossip and rumor. It is human nature. Separating it out can be tricky! If you want to expend less energy on all of that talk, use what I use talking about issues only “what I need to know to be helpful”. It is not easy for me or others to do, but it is most helpful approach to take in the long run. For example, recently in terms of the President’s illness to Covid-19 and the possibility of his infecting others, two questions will do that would you would need to know. What did he know? When did he know it?

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