Stunned, her mouth open, Margaret

tried in vain to compose herself. Someone handed her a tissue and she dabbed at the tears that flowed forth. “So, son, you’re not getting engaged

tonight?” “Nope.”

“What about—” “Nope. There is no Julia. That’s just something I told Millie.” “. . . But, how did you know I would be here tonight?” “Seriously? We all knew Millie couldn’t keep a secret that big from you. If I told her I had a secret girlfriend and was going to pop the question, she’d tell you and both of you would show up.” Millie protested, “Well why didn’t you let me in on the plan?” Desmond shrugged. “Come on, Millie.

You know you would’ve spilled the beans.” It seems everyone in Margaret’s family knew Millie couldn’t keep a secret and that the sisters gossiped with one another—so much so they could be manipulated through gossip into attending a surprise party in Margaret’s honor. The sisters shouldn’t feel unique, though. Pretty much every human being gossips. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary reveals “gossip” to be a marvelous word. It can be a verb (“to relate gossip”), a descriptive title (“a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others”) or a noun (a “rumor or report of an intimate nature”). As a practice, gossip has long been viewed with great distaste, often considered a sign of personal weakness (“She’s nothing but a gossip!”). Gossip columns and gossipy news programs about celebrities are often scoffed at by “serious” folks. Through history, inveterate gossipers were subjected to severe punishment. To- day habitual gossips are scorned. None of this is surprising, is it? Gossip is so ubiquitous that we assume we know everything about it. Yet many of our as- sumptions about gossip are incorrect. In fact, (gasp!) there are several very important secret truths about gossip; and, really, you need to hear all about them.

The Secret Truths About Gossip First, let us point out the essential role

gossip plays in helping us maintain emo- tional balance. This is needed because human beings are anxious creatures. The more anxiety we feel, the less we are able to cope with the world. We begin to feel

we are losing equilibrium, that everything is “not okay.” Gossip is a universal human way of coping with (“binding”) the anxiety of the moment. For example, let’s say you are in a gathering somewhere—maybe in an office building, in a department store, in a school building, or in a hotel—and suddenly an alarm sounds and a loud- speaker orders everyone to go outside. As you stand around outside waiting to be told officially that it is safe to go back inside, those around you begins to discuss what could possibly have caused this alarm: “I heard somebody smelled smoke.” “Don’t they always test the alarm on the first Mon- day of the month?” “I hope this isn’t an- other false alarm like the one last year. They really need to fix the system.” This idle communication, speculation about the unknown and spreading unverified infor- mation—that is, gossip—is humanity’s usual way of tamping down the anxiety we inevitably feel.

Second, while some of us gossip more (a lot more!) than others, everyone gossips and everyone listens to gossip (and, no, women don’t gossip more than men; though women may be better at it). We often don’t realize that’s what we are doing. Take for example the pre-game sports tele- vision programs that go on for hours before and after professional athletic events. Former athletes, former coaches and “jour- nalists” wearing suits and ties give their expert insight into what did happen, what’s about to happen and why it’s going to hap- pen. This isn’t news. Instead what these pundits are doing is gossiping. And the same holds true for those folks on TV and radio who discuss politics: they share one minute of news, followed by fifty-nine minutes of (expert) gossip. Regardless of our politics, we tend to listen to those ex- perts whose gossip does a better job of binding our own personal anxieties.

Third, overhearing gossip is an effec-

tive way of evaluating the emotional state of any group of which you are a part. That is, if you pay attention to the gossip in your family, business, neighborhood, etc., you can easily tell the degree of anxiety those around you are feeling. Because of this, we could accurately say that gossip is a sort of “anxiety thermometer.” If Aunt Millie just calls you up to complain about the price per pound of pot roast, Millie and your family are “okay,” feeling acceptably bal- anced. If Millie calls you breathlessly to


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