November 19, 2007
Gossip is not new; the Oxford English Dictionary traces the word back to 1014. The etymology of the word comes from god-sip, a godparent of one child referring to a close friendship. Gossip then means things one would only say among close friends.
Gossip is very much part of our culture and seems to be a national pastime. The gossip "industry" is booming. We are exposed to gossip whether we turn to "Page 6" listen to talk the radio, watch TV (E! Entertainment) or go to the Internet.
Gossip has a negative connotation. Judaism considers any words spoken without a constructive purpose as a sin. It considers the speaking negatively about people demeans both the speaker and the subject of the gossip. Christianity also condemns "backbiters."
With the advent of Web 2.O and the new tools of communication the issue of gossip has become critical. Word of mouth marketing is a billion dollar industry and is expected to grow to $3.7 billion in 2011, according to The Word of Mouth Marketing Association. The WMMA has more than 250 corporate members and is keenly aware of the ethical dimensions of this new type of marketing. It has developed an ethics code whose summary is called Honesty ROI:
- Honesty of Relationship: You say who your represent
- Honesty of Opinion: You say what you believe
- Honesty of Identity: You never obscure your identity.
Some corporations have a very strict policy against gossip at the workplace. Empower Public Relations, a Chicago firm has a very strict rule about gossiping. It won't tolerate it. Anyone found gossiping about a colleague at the firm is fired.
How can we avoid gossip?
First we should be sure that we are reasonable sure that the information we communicate is true.
Second, we should consider if what we say, even if true, could cause harm. Making that determination is not that hard. We should to think of how we would feel said the same thing about us.
Third we should ask ourselves if we would be ready to repeat what we said about someone to his or her face.
Finally we should think of how comfortable we would be to see our comments published in the local paper with attribution.
The American poet Josiah Gilbert Holland once said:
Gossip is always a personal confession either of malice or imbecility.