Small town gossip: is it inevitable?

The common wisdom is that most small town people gossip. Some say it is because there isn't enough for folks to do so they gossip. To me, that seems an entirely implausible reason as I know so many fine and decent people from small towns. In fact, I learned from one of those fine people the following:"Small people talk about other people, average people talk about things, and great people talk about ideas."

Still, I can recall vividly, my first brush with gossip that seriously damaged someone. A girl that I knew in a grade below me, missed a good amount of school and became ill in school several times. I began to hear rumors that she was pregnant. An unwed mother would have provided for a serious violation of the social norms of the time. Knowing her as I did, I asked her if she knew what people were saying. With a wet eyed and painful look that I have never completely forgotten she said, "you too, you believe it don't you?"

Shortly after, when her family moved out of the area it ostensibly confirmed that she may have been pregnant. Later, I learned that she wasn't, she had contracted mononucleosis.

While I rarely quote the Bible, the Bible offers some of the most eloquent words concerning gossip: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." In other words, don't gossip about your neighbors. The law is very explicit in its prohibition about gossip in that it does not allow "heresay" evidence in criminal court. At the risk of sounding obtuse, I will share that I have read in Psychology Journals and other learned papers about gossip that do not sufficiently explain the ubiquitous presence of gossip in our culture.

One research theme around gossip posits that people are herd animals. Part of our evolutionary history includes gathering at the watering hole, where there was an exchange of information. The human equivalent to the water hole is the water cooler or coffee pot and information is exchanged in this coming together. Some researchers suggest that gossip helps us to affirm our customs and societal rules.

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