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People Like Us

January 9, 2010

“Have you heard the latest gossip?”  Whenever a conversation starts with that I really have to cringe.  While we all love to hear that little nugget of intrigue, rarely do we get the whole story and all too often something innocent spins into a tall tale.  The one thing all gossip has in common is it’s none of our business in the first place, at least in this ever-morphing form.

There are many reasons we gossip.  While I am no sociologist, I am fairly certain it has something to do with belonging to a group.  Gossip lends itself to that end several ways.  First, it includes us in the group.  If they want to hear it, they have include you.  Second, it tends to exclude the subject of the gossip, to some extent, from the group.  That dynamic is important, if someone cannot be excluded, it’s not much of a group.

Back in our hunter-gather days, being part of a group was the difference between life and death.  Modern man retains that primal need.  Today, rather than grouping in small clans, we huddle in neighborhoods.  Of course for us modern people, one group is never enough.  To the neighborhood we add city, state, and nation (now, even nations search out groups, ever heard of NATO or the EU?).  Then we turn around and group by race, religion, politics, wealth, education… the list goes on and on.

Even within groups, other groups form.  Politically you can be a conservative.  To some that is not enough, you have to be a Republican.  But not all Republicans believe that exact same things so that group is too big.  There are Christian-conservatives, war hawk-conservatives, economic-conservatives, old-school conservatives, and corporate-conservatives.  That is just a sampling and they all overlap and exclude each other in many ways.  They are by no means alone in this either, it’s just the Democrats have so many groups it would take a book list just the major ones.

Having so many groups within groups and overlapping groups creates an atmosphere where people vie for position.  Here is where the gossip comes in.  In today’s world, it is not those excluded from a group we need to worry about but those within.  The point is to prove a particular person is not really “one of us.”  A rumor does not need to have any truth to it to be damaging.  When you hear gossip and repeat it, you damage someone.  It might be innocent fun to you, but why did you hear it in the first place?  What was their agenda in telling you?  When you spread gossip, you become the unwitting accomplice of someone, up the chain, that has something to gain from it.

The “people like us” mentality fosters an air of suspicion.  You have to wear your loyalty to the group like a badge of honor.  To belong, you have to constantly guard against being thrown under the bus so to speak.  By spreading rumors, you throw somebody else under it and thus prove your loyalty.  That is never a healthy way to live.

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