Have You Heard What They're Saying about Gossip
St. Paul didn't like it.<注1> Moses warned his people against it.<注2> Hesiod declared it "mischievous" and "hard to get rid of,"<注3> but Oscar Wilde said, "Gossip is charming."
"History is merely gossip," he wrote in one of his famous plays. "But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality."<注4>
In times past, under Jewish law, gossipmongers might be fined or flogged.<注5> The Puritans put them in stocks or ducking stools,<注6>but no punishment seemed to have the desired effect of preventing gossip, which has continued uninterrupted across the back fences of the centuries.
Today, however, the much-maligned human foible is being looked at in a different light.<注7> Psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, even evolutionary biologists are concluding that gossip may not be so bad after all.
Gossip is "an intrinsically<注8> valuable activity," philosophy professor Aaron Ben-Ze'ev states in a book he has edited, entitled Good Gossip. For one thing, gossip helps us acquire information that we need to know that doesn't come through ordinary channels, such as: "What was the real reason so-and-so was fired from the office?" Gossip also is a form of social bonding, Dr. Ben-Ze'ev says. It is "a kind of sharing" that also "satisfies the tribal need ?namely, the need to belong to and be accepted by a unique group." What's more, the professor notes, "Gossip is enjoyable."
Another gossip groupie,<注9> Dr. Ronald De Sousa, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, describes gossip basically as a form of indiscretion and a "saintly virtue," by which he means that the knowledge spread by gossip will usually end up being slightly beneficial. "It seems likely that a world in which all information were universally available would be preferable to a world where immense power resides in the control of secrets," he writes.
Still, everybody knows that gossip can have its ill effects, especially on the poor wretch<注10> being gossiped about. And people should refrain from certain kinds of gossip that might be harmful, even though the ducking stool is long out of fashion.
For those who want to have the "joy" of gossiping without the guilt, Emrys Westacott of Alfred University has provided a handy gossip flow chart (above). Unfortunately, he hasn't come up with a billfold-size one as yet.<注11>
By the way, there is also an interesting strain of gossip called medical gossip, which in its best form, according to researchers Jerry M. Suls and Franklin Goodkin, can motivate people with symptoms of serious illness, but who are unaware of it, to seek medical help.
So go ahead and gossip. But remember, if (as often is the case among gossipers) you should suddenly become one of the gossipees instead, it is best to employ the foolproof<注12> defense recommended by Plato, who may have learned the lesson from Socrates, who as you know was the victim of gossip spread that he was corrupting the youth of Athens:<注13> "When men speak ill of thee, so live that nobody will believe them." Or, as Will Rogers said, "Live so that you wouldn't be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip."
1.圣保罗所著的《保罗书信》(Paul and His Letters)是《圣经-新约》的重要部分。这些书信大多针对发生在各地教会中的问题(包括内部纷争、信徒互相指控)而写，同时针对那些对他本人作使徒之动机的毁谤，他也极力作了辩护。故本文作者称圣保罗不喜欢“gossip”。
2.圣经《出埃及记》(The Book of Exodus)记载，摩西在西奈山接受神的《十诫》(The Ten Commandments)，其中第九诫为：Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
3.贺西奥德曾作长诗《工作与时日》(Works and Days)，劝诫其弟改恶从善，并歌颂劳动，介绍农事知识。文中提及的文字即出自此诗，原文为"Gossip is mischievous, light and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to get rid of."。
4.此段文字出自王尔德1892年的喜剧《少奶奶的扇子》(Lady Windermier's Fan，或译《温德梅尔夫人的扇子》)。
6. stock: (旧时刑罚用的)手枷，足枷；ducking stool:浸水椅(15-18世纪的一种轻刑具，把一长条板悬于池塘上，末端系一小椅，将悍妇等缚于其上，浸入水中)。
12. foolproof: (简单得)连傻子都懂的。