On gossip and other tricky social behaviours....

So a new study out of UC Berkeley has found that gossip is good for you. According to researchers, talking smack about someone is good for social order. What's next? A study that shows that that big Macs and super sizing fast food meals are good for our cholesterol? Having worked at a newspaper known for publishing what was once the most important gossip page in the country, I saw how gossip, and the business of gossip, worked from the inside. Once you witness how sausage is made, well, you know the rest.

Gossip. Vicious, dirty gossip can cause much more than heartburn. As a kid I will always remember some of my old neighbors, the ones without jobs, who spent the whole day out their windows keeping track of all that was going down on the block. Yea, their nosy bodies kept the thieves in check, but, their chatter also destroyed reputations and relationships! Of course, many of these gossip mongers failed to keep their own homes clean, if you know what I mean. As a kid, I always found gossip, or bochinche, as it was called, vulgar. But who is judging? I mean, I am the first to admit that I have gossiped. And funny enough, I end up in an industry, media, that is -- at the core -- all about gossip. Ugh...

Can one justify between good gossip -- spreading the great things that people do and bad gossip, reporting or spreading lies or personal and intimacies that are no ones business. Is there such thing good gossip versus bad gossip? In my career I did witness things that I never reporter, some intimate moments with very high level leaders and celebrities. I remember one mentor who said: there are things that are meant for you to write about, there are others that are meant to be private. Learning to understand the delicate line between the two - what you report, what you keep to yourself -- makes for a great journalist.

In one of the most fascinating books I read last year, The Happiness Hypothesis, author Jonathan Haidt argues very eloquently the importance of gossip - good and bad - how it's evolved and the role it plays in society. He posits that "gossip elicits gossip and it enables us" -- we, amazing social beings -- "to keep track of everyone's reputation without having to witness their good and bad deeds personally." Gossip, he argues, creates a non zero sum game because it costs us nothing to give each other information, yet we both benefit by receiving information."  

But the thing is, that critical juicy gossip is like fast food, addictive and delicious. And yes, if you eat it on the daily, it will cause poison to run through your veins. Spreading lies and falsities can end careers and destroy lives. If you are on the other end of the gossip tale, it can be deeply hurtful. The potential for collateral damage that gossip can cause is huge in the age of FB, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. is huge. Notice the number of the countless suicide of vulnerable teens who were the victims of horrid lies, rumors and grotesque whisper campaigns. Gossip is not joke. It may be good for the social order, but I just don't think it's a good look...

I learned something fascinating while working at a paper that dished it like no other. Reputation management is a big bigness. Celebrities, politicians, CEO's know all about this-- they hire publicists to manage their reputations. They hire folks to manage gossip! Good gossip can make stars and elect our leaders. It's all about managing your rep. Expensive. Exhausting. And, for so many, totally worth it.

Which brings me to my last point and one that gives me hope on all things gossip. In the same Happiness book, Haidt writes about findings of the gossip study that he conducted. Gossip is overwhelmingly critical, yup, we love to talk about the sh*t that people do, their moral and social transgressions. People rarely tell stories about the good deeds of others much like newscasters rarely report on 'good news.'

Haidt says that there is a reason: when we pass along information about others, especially juicy gossip, we feel more powerful and a shared sense of what is right and what is wrong. We feel connected to our gossip partners. What is the hope in that for me? The good news he says is that gossip paired with reciprocity -- you do for me, I do for you -- allows for karma to work on earth and not on the other side. In other words, spread that nasty lie about that colleague so you can get that coveted promotion, you will pay, eventually. It will get around and back at you!

So, do I alter my don't traffic in gossip rule in my 10 Commandments for the 21st century woman? No and yes. There is very little time we have if we are working on our dreams and to fulfill the greatest expressions of ourselves. To engage in trying to figure out who is banging who is frankly, tiring. At least to me. I say that your time is better spent turning inward, you know, to focus on internal growth or that yoga pose that is kicking your butt, or with your kids or those you love. Or reading a great book.

Still, I do suggest that you keep a Google alert on yourself.  And in touch with that gossipy neighbor, after all, you need to know what the crazies are saying about you.