“Some people talk about other people’s failures with so much pleasure that you would swear they are talking about their own successes.” - Mokokoma Mokhonoana
We are human beings and sharing information about each other is part of who we are in society. Throw the first stone if you have never spread a gossip. This willingness to share a fresh and juicy piece of information is intrinsic to human beings, a natural characteristic of our species. According to sociologists, gossip is probably a relic of our evolutionary past. For the sake of survival, it has almost always been necessary to know the lives of those around us: who had powerful friends, who slept with whom, who had limited resources, and who would be able to stab us in the back when a difficulty came up. This knowledge helped people to advance socially - and those who were not interested in knowing about the lives of others were not good at attracting or keeping mates or alliances, and were eventually pushed aside or eliminated.
Gossip has always played an important role in keeping our society connected. But if, in the distant past, the power of gossip was a survival and integration skill, nowadays the line between the playful naturalness of a harmless gossip and the destructive power of talking about others lightly is very thin. In an increasingly informed society (but not so much more tolerant), the lack of a sense of what gossip is can fuel alienation or even the destruction of private lives that are made public, judged and condemned, just for the frivolous pleasure of gossiping.
In the movie Doubt, brilliantly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (father Flynn) and Meryl Streep (sister Aloysius) there is a dialogue in which the priest, himself a victim of the sister's gossip and judgments, shares a parable that is for me the best description of the irreversible power of gossip: “A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man they hardly knew - I know none of you have ever done so. That night she had a dream: a large hand appeared above her and pointed downward. She was immediately overcome by an overwhelming feeling of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She went to an old parish priest, Father O' Rourke, and told him everything. 'Is talking about others a sin?' she asked. 'Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing at me? Should I ask for his absolution? 'Father, have I done something wrong?', 'Yes,' replied the priest. 'Yes, ignorant and ill-mannered woman. You have raised a false testimony about your neighbor. You have destroyed his reputation, you should be ashamed of yourself.' The woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness. 'Not so fast,' said the priest. 'I want you to go home, take a pillow, climb up to the roof and then open the pillow with a knife. After that you can come back here.' The woman went home: she took a pillow from the bed, a knife from the drawer, climbed from the fire escape to the roof and stabbed the pillow. Then she returned to the parish priest as instructed. 'Did you open the pillow with a knife?' he asked. 'Yes, Father.' 'And what was the result?', 'Feathers,' she said. 'Feathers?', he repeated. 'Feathers everywhere, Father.' 'Now I want you to go back there and gather up all the feathers that flew with the wind.' 'Well,' she said, 'that can't be done. I don't know where they went. The wind scattered them everywhere.' 'That,' said the priest, 'is gossip.'"
Translated from the original on The Gossip Issue of Vogue Portugal.
Full credits and stories on the print issue.