‘It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays, saying things against one, behind one’s back, that are absolutely and entirely true.’
Humans are predisposed to gossip: we know we shouldn’t repeat scandalous stories, or pass on personal anecdotes to a wider audience or take public enjoyment from someone else’s misfortunes, but we also know that not all gossip is toxic. We owe much of our knowledge of our human history to the written gossip of correspondents down the millennia. Gossip is an important information exchange, an efficient means of defining what is (and isn’t) socially acceptable and often serves as a useful vent for anger that might otherwise erupt into real conflict.
We gossip about others in the tacit acceptance that they might well therefore be gossiping about us. As Oscar Wilde said, ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’. Part of the fun of gossip lies in the danger; being overheard is a real risk so watch your back. If you realise that you’ve been overheard spilling secrets, you can either pursue the risky policy of apologising (the right thing to do if you’ve actually been caught bad-mouthing someone) or you can bluff it out and pretend you never knew it was top-secret material.
If you overhear some gossip about yourself, it is tempting to let the guilty parties dig their own grave by allowing them to rant and then letting them know you heard everything.
Avoid this temptation; it will leave a nasty taste in the mouth for all concerned. Avoid righteous indignation if the gossip that you overhear is actually the truth (but an uncomfortable truth that you were reluctant to confront).