From the Viewsroom

The power of gossip

J Srinivasan | Updated on September 17, 2020 Published on September 17, 2020

The office supplied kaffeeklatsch in plenty. Can WFH replace it?

Some unusual commotion on my floor made me peek out of the door, only to see my visibly agitated neighbour pacing the corridor mumbling to herself. One of the ‘positives’ of the Covid is that now you have started to know your neighbours from the bare nodding acquaintances they were hitherto. Even before I could enquire, she fulminated about “this wretched work from home”. I was surprised. For, I know that she used to travel quite a distance to her workplace on the outskirts of the city. Now, the stress of commute was gone, as also the attendant pulls and pressures of office. But I didn’t know the half of it.

To a sympathetic prodding, she said that from working reasonably set hours at office and at home, she was now on call all her waking hours, either by her bosses and colleagues or her own family. And, after months of this, her patience was fraying. Going to office, she said, also meant meeting different people, tackling a different set of problems, and, then with a happy smile added, gossiping! Though much reviled, gossiping is actually widely practised and recommended even for its cathartic effect. Psychologists ‘’prescribe’’ it to reduce stress; tell your friend about the idiosyncrasies of your boss and you have unburdened yourself. And, not to forget the bonding that has just happened. Indeed, one explanation by an evolutionary psychologist is that gossip helped our early ancestors form networks, aping the community grooming practised by primates. A 2019 study published in Social Psychologist journal said most of those surveyed gossiped for almost an hour daily, and not all of it was salacious. Some scholars even credit cultural learning to gossip — telling people what’s socially acceptable and what’s not. For instance, persistent unacceptable behaviour by a person gets gossiped about. It can, as the psychologist said, “serve to keep people in check, morally speaking.” As I turned to my hassled neighbour, and asked convivially, ‘Did you hear about Mr Murthy in 2B?’ she was beaming.

Senior Associate Editor

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Published on September 17, 2020
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