August 19, 2006

Good Gossip?

Category: Ethics,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

Robert Putnam on the social benefits of close-knit communities and their gossip: “Dense social ties facilitate gossip and other valuable ways of cultivating reputation — an essential foundation for trust in a complex society” (Bowling Alone, p. 21).

Given that some gossip is clearly destructive and sinful (e.g., talk aimed at tearing down someone else’s reputation) or at least not upbuilding, is there a place for other sorts of gossip?  I suspect so.

After all, there should be some mechanism in society for people to know, for instance, that you don’t want to have their daughter babysit your children but you can rely on her to be there anytime you need her or that if you buy a car from him you won’t likely get your money’s worth and so forth.  You wouldn’t want to ask some girl to babysit, have a catastrophe because of her incompetence, and then find out that all your friends knew it wouldn’t work out but didn’t tell you because “We don’t gossip.”

Perhaps instead of condemning “gossip” outright, it would be better to say that there are certain kinds of talk about other people that should be forbidden but other kinds of talk that are sometimes necessary and helpful to build trust and establish people’s reputations in society.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:45 pm | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “Good Gossip?”

  1. wyclif Says:


    Recently, on an email list we are both on, a member thundered that “gossip is always sin.”

    Well, it depends on how one defines gossip, and that’s why I like your last paragraph.

  2. Brenda Says:

    having lived in a very small community where everyone knew everything about everyone else, i agree with you that gossip is not entirely bad. certainly the lack of privacy had its disadvantages and some news was shared that shouldn’t have been, but there is something good about having everyone know that something is either very good or very bad in your life – and then being able to comfort or rejoice as only a community that does truly care about each other really can do.

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