I am an unashamed gossip. Gossip to me is the spice of life, a valuable tool of information, and the oil that greases human relations.
Years ago I was shocked when an acquaintance said to me in reply to my query, ‘what’s going on for her?’ – “I’ve given up gossip”.
I was so taken aback that I retreated, feeling in-adequate and really rather nasty, as though I had been caught out in some secret disreputable, or unmentionable sin.
I thought about it for some days, and then my common sense re-asserted itself. If someone didn’t pass on to me that a mutual acquaintance had a life threatening illness then I could miss out on the chance to support them. If someone didn’t tell me a couple were breaking up, I could tactlessly invite the couple for dinner, and rub salt in their wounds with my ignorance. If I didn’t know that a child had gone off the rails or was in hospital I could be blithely unconscious of their need for help, whether emotional support or a hot meal delivered to a family under stress.
Too often gossip is confused with back-biting, whereas to me, gossip is passing on information that is useful or even valuable in our inter-actions with each other.
And there’s another aspect to gossip – not just useful vital information that enables us to respond appropriately, but sometimes it also gives innocent pleasure !
Yes, I remember the fascination with which I listened to the story of a party where two guests had had a row, and one had tipped a glass over the other…and wished I had been there to see it… drama always happens when I’m in the next room, I felt. So is this voyeurism or schadenfreude I asked myself?
And I also remember reading years ago, that Lord Butler, an English stateman who knew the Queen, reported that like ‘all intelligent women’, she enjoyed gossip. First, I was delighted to think that an enjoyment of good gossip was almost a virtue, and meant that I was intelligent, but it also made me look at what gossip actually is.
It’s the tiny facets of personality or of life that can illuminate a whole character, or light up a situation by showing the human interest behind the dry bones of fact.
When reading history, it’s the delicious details of human conduct that rivet me – reading that Charles 11 loved his cavalier King Charles spaniels so much that he allowed them to whelp in his own sumptuous four posters beds… causing distaste and disgust among his courtiers – ‘God bless the King and damn his dogs,’ one quipped. This gossip made me love him.
I loved to read of George V fulminating about his son wearing ‘vulgar turn-ups’ on his trousers, and loud checks, and Queen Victoria complaining about her second son’s sartorial habits too. Even better is the unexpected and almost outrageous, like hearing of the love between Nehru and Lady Mountbatten, which gossip had informed me of long before the current spate of film and biography.
Just knowing that this beautiful high -minded man who ruled India, had fallen in love with the elegant witty aristocrat married to the semi- royal Viceroy, made them both so much more human, and therefore interesting. To read that she was found dead with all his letters opened on her bed, to be re-read before she went to sleep, and that the heart- broken statesman had sent a destroyer to her committal beneath the sea, to sprinkle showers of marigold petals on her coffin as it sank beneath the waves, was beautiful.
And to discover that the Queen Mother – who gossip tells us had a wicked tongue – quipped that: “dear Edwina always liked to make a splash,” gave me another frisson of pleasure.
‘One shares gossip as one should share good wine. It is an act of pleasure,’ wrote Sarah Sands, a journalist in an essay on gossip ‘There is an art to gossip, which is really a moment of memoir. Philosophers of the human heart… or heartless but comic diarists … tell us more about social history, politics and humanity than autobiographies of public record… I always learn more from a gossip than a prig. Life is a comedy…’
This is gossip as fun. But gossip is also the passing on of important information that we may need. Not the cruel behind their backs stuff, but the details that may help us all. We can be kinder and more tolerant or even forgiving, if we know the pain or difficulties behind some-one’s inconsiderate or strange behaviour.
Women have a well-deserved reputation for gossip, but it’s often this sort of passing on of useful information. On the other hand when I was the only girl in an all-male officers mess, I was shocked at the sometimes cruel and careless gossipy remarks of the men I overheard. Yet my experience of living in an all-female community had been that kindness was acceptable, but catty comments were not.
So yes, I am a defender of the art of gossip…I relish the flashes of insight which an apt morsel of gossip can bestow. This is not gossip as slander, back-biting, envy, jealousy or small mindedness that so many arbiters of human nature have condemned. This is gossip demonstrating the endless fascination of human nature, and as an aid to understanding ‘what’s going on’ for each other.
And if, as Socrates said, strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people, there speaks a man who doesn’t understand the value of emotional ties and the genuine connections between people which make the world go round.
The picture is Chatterboxes by Thomas Kennington
Food for threadbare gourmets
We were meeting friends off the ferry, half an hour’s drive away, and bringing them back home for lunch. Which meant being organised. So while a hot winter’s lunch was heating up in the oven, I needed a little something to keep them going. So spicy pumpkin soup which could be quickly re-heated, it was.
Steam chunks of pumpkin, and scrape it off the skin when soft. Fry some onions and garlic until soft, and add the pumpkin. In the whizzer put portions of this mixture, adding enough warm chicken stock to make a thick smooth mixture, and then return to the pan.
Add salt and pepper and either nutmeg or curry powder to taste, and heat it up. Just before serving, add cream to taste, and serve with fingers of crisp crunchy fried bread, fried in olive oil or hot fat.
Food for thought
The angels keep their ancient places–
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
26 responses to “Gossip is good for us”
I think it’s the definition of gossip that determines whether or not we should engage in it. If it’s, as you mention, “slander, back-biting, envy, jealousy or small mindedness”, then refrain. Otherwise, enjoy.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Good to hear from you Janet, thank you for your comment.. you’re right about the definition of gossip…Valerie
Have a wonderful week, Valerie.
First off, Valerie, the soup sounds absolutely delicious. it’s too hot in Phoenix to make soup, but I want to keep it for later. Such an interesting perspective on gossip. I agree with what you say and that women so often move along much needed information. I am always supplying my husband with information about people we care about–things he needs to know but doesn’t. But the word gossip has a negative connotation, and sometimes the way we perceive a word makes a big difference, unfortunately
Hello Luanne, lovely to hear from you… yes, as you guess we are in the middle of winter … I know you’re down at the bottom left, so very hot at the moment !!!!
Yes, It’s interesting that so many men don’t hear or notice the information about people that we do actually need to know in the interests of kindness or understanding…and yes,,, gossip has a bad name !!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
It’s been hot for so long now that we are really melting and getting very crabby. Very. crabby. There is an old short story about a man ready to be executed for a murder committed because it was so hot, and I always think of that in this heat!
Actually, Luanne, when I lived in Hongkong, it was a generally accepted fact that the number of murders rose during the heat !!!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Aha! I knew it was true! Thank you for confirming that little known fact!
Most definitions of gossip are negative. But talking about people isn’t bad if it’s done with compassion and for the right reasons.
A cafe called Partners in Dunedin (sadly long ago closed) used to serve Mexican Pumpkin Soup. i asked what made it Mexican and was told tomatoes. My version is: bake or steam pumpkin, scrape flesh from the skin (although this isn’t necessary if the skin is orange) whizz it in a food processor. Saute onions and garlic, put into large pot, add pumpkin, add a tin of tomatoes and a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste for every four cups of pumpkin; bring to the boil, add salt and pepper to taste; simmer for 10 – 20 minutes, stirring now and then so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pot.
Hello Ele, – you’re right about the negativity… I love the sound of your pumpkin soup and will be trying it… just the right weather for it at the moment !!
My late husband was always better at gossip than I was. I seem to come late to discussion of the latest gossip. I like your critique of Socrates. And I wholeheartedly agree that it’s the delicious details of human conduct that make history interesting.
So good to hear from you Nicki, thank you for commenting…hope your books are going well…
I love the Old English/Middle English meaning of a gossip.
Do you speak Middle English? I had a friend who spoke Anglo Saxon, but have never met a Middle English speaker !
Anyway, I had to google it of course, and agree with you, lovely definition… which also made me feel the illustration I found was rather apt…
LikeLiked by 1 person
Sadly, I don’t! But I like etymology in a very amateurish way.
I love how you “sanitized” gossip. What you say is true. I give my husband information all the time because he is oblivious to what’s happening around him. It’s all kind “good to know” info. So many people think of it only as the mean, bad biting comments that fly off the tongue.
Thank you Kate, I like your description of ‘sanitized gossip !
It’s funny how many men miss the sort of details about life that we women know are valuable !
LikeLiked by 1 person
I had missed that you were back Valerie and it’s very good to see you; I always enjoyed reading your warm and thoughtful posts. Gossip does have a bad name, and it can be mean-spirited, but yes, I do enjoy the type of gossip you describe, it gives life more of a flavour.
Hello Andrea, so good to hear from you… and thank you for your kind remarks about my posts… you would know as a writer how valuable positive re-inforcement is !!!!
Yes, good gossip is the spice of life !!!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I love the way you put gossip in a positive light. There’s a difference between walking in someone else’s moccasins for the purpose of understanding and malicious backbiting, isn’t there? And we have become a world of snapping turtles and venomous snakes as evidenced by social media. Lovely article.
While not a fan of pumpkin as a rule and unable to have onion or garlic, your soup sounds enticing. A tweak here and there…food for thought. 😉
Good to hear from you, and thank you for your kind words.. I liked your description of snapping turtles etc… except that I can’t visualise snapping turtles, which I love, and always feel sorry for the bad press snakes
have !!! It’s people that are so hostile, isnlt it!
“hear no evil, see no evil…” etc seems to have been forgotten in these days of instant internet…
Truly fascinating snippets, most of which I was unaware of. I have not read the proper gossiping circles?
Gossip can be destructive, particularly in a repressed society. Those who spread scandal should be sure of the facts. If true then the perpetrators deserve to have it known. If untrue, however, the unwarranted destructive effects can be enormous. Also, I detest those who invariably embellish, usually with ghoulish glee.
St[ill, I do agree that life would be the poorer without it, and that some kinds are a form of storytelling.
Oh yes, I didn’t really touch on the destructive side of gossip, and how often it’s distorted or untrue… I know, having been the victim very often… in a small village, the nail that sticks its head out, to mix metaphors, gets hammered hard !!!
Thank you as ever for your thoughtful comment – always gratefully received !!
LikeLiked by 2 people
What an entertaining and rather delightful read. Me thinks I am much like you..I love knowing the little bits of ‘interesting’ things about people, which make people real.
Your package is in the mail….they said 8-10 days. Let me know when you get it so I know how many days it really took!
Linda. first of all, thank you so much for going to all the trouble of sending me the ointment… I think it will be really useful, as I’ve been quite ill for the last week with the painkillers affecting my liver… so no painkillers now….
And thank you for your lovely comment about the blog… as a writer one always wonders if it’s interesting or boring or dull.. you made my day… much love to you, and hope Boomer is improving XXXXXXXXXX
READ CHATTYGIRLS101s BLOG