In a recent post, I mentioned my friend Gina. Gina is so pure of heart she is almost congenitally incapable of seeing darkness in anyone else. To her everyone is "really nice," and "incredibly good;" and if they do anything to demonstrate the contrary, she's absolutely certain it was unintentional.
When we worked together, we were something of a comic duo. I would enter the break room in an inflamed state, where I would perform a lively and irate reenactment of a co-workers transgression. After I was finished, Gina would laugh. Then she'd quickly interject that she was sure they hadn't meant to do it.
That's when I would give her "the look." No further explanation was necessary, but I pulled out my stock line anyway. "I hate to break it to you, Gina, but they did mean it. And you know why? Because they're mean, and if they get the chance, they'll do it again."
Then we would both crack up, because besides being a pure spirit, Gina also has a killer sense of humor.
But despite my occasional frustration with my friend's rosy vision, every January first when I composed my resolution list (a long and redundant list indeed), number one was always the same: Be more like Gina. It was a code for any number of personal flaws I hoped to eradicate in myself: the joy I took in gossip, my tendency to let petty things irritate me, my inability NOT to see the darkness in others. And to want to plumb it, to understand it, maybe even use it to enhance my fiction with some convincing and utterly hateworthy antagonists.
Some years I made more progress with my desire to live a more Gina-like life than others. But never have I questioned the rectitude of my resolution. Until yesterday.
That's when an article in the science section of the New York Times informed me that gossip was much more than a a bunch of people gathered around the water cooler in an orgy of nasty carping. It's actually a "mutually protective ritual evolved from early grooming behavior that defines group membership." Hmmm...That's fine for the in crowd, but what about the group members it excludes? I was not convinced.
But as I read on, the case for gossiping grew more compelling. Turns out that dishing the dirt on friends and enemies alike also provides a "rule enforcing dynamic." Through gossip, people communicate societal dos and don'ts to each other in a far more colorful and convincing manner than any Sunday school teacher ever could. Cross the line and you won't just burn in some distant and perhaps metaphorical hell. Vicious tongues will wag for weeks.
Now that had my attention. Maybe a little backstabbing actually served a purpose. Even with gossip running rampant (according to the article, it provides up to 2/3 to the content of every conversation)people are still lying, stealing and cheating with abandon. Imagine how bad it would be if all the gossipers stopped their 24 hour a day broadcasting! And just think how quiet the office would be? Two thirds of every conversation? If everyone in the work place, or the bar or the Tupperware party was magically cured of the gossiping virus, the earth would practically fall silent.
Yes, it's an interesting article, and I have to admit there's a certain validity to it. And yet, somehow, I don't quite buy it. It resembles some of the lame arguments that have surfaced in recent years in defense of personal greed or overeating. They're incredibly appealing for obvious reasons, and perhaps they even provide a balance to extremism. But as far as gossiping goes, I still want to be more like Gina.
Meanwhile, on my Waitress blog, I've written my humble version of a "Letter to a Young Writer."