<![CDATA[Sharing gossip is one of our friendship rules, and we often expect to talk about other people with each other in friendship interactions. One of the biggest surprises from this study came from a role-play developed and performed by one of the last research groups—a group of managers in state-level government. While gossip was a frequently mentioned topic in many of the group discussions and interviews during this research, this role-play, and the discussion afterward by the group, opened up a whole new way of thinking about gossip for me. Here’s how it went:
As the scene opens, Janice, the supervisor, is sitting alone at her desk. Her employee, Cynthia, approaches her.
Cynthia is quite agitated as she explains to Janice, “I really need to talk to you about something. I have to ask you,” she says in a pleading tone, “please don’t tell anyone in the office. My husband just left me, and it was a surprise. I can barely deal with it. I’m barely functioning here,” she says, choking back tears. “On top of that,” she goes on, with her shoulders and head slowly drooping forward, “I just got back from the doctor and I have to have a hysterectomy!”
“Oh my goodness,” exclaims Janice with a look of concern on her face as she reaches over to pat Cynthia on the arm. “I’m so sorry to hear this.”
Cynthia goes on to explain about her need for privacy. “I really need to keep this quiet.” She looks Janice in the eyes pleadingly. “I don’t want people coming up to me. I can’t deal with it emotionally right now. It’s just too much. Is that all right?”
“I understand completely,” Janice says.
We next see Janice as she enters the lunchroom with a worried frown creasing her forehead. She is trying to maintain her resolve to keep quiet as she approaches two women waiting for her at a table for lunch. “Uhh!” is the sound of her resolve escaping as she loses the battle. “I just had a—you can’t say anything!” The two women agree. “Cynthia’s having a hard time, and I just want to, you know—this has to be confidential. But we really need to support her and to help her. She’s having problems in her marriage, and female problems, too. I can’t go into the details. I trust you two to keep this under wraps. I’m just saying something because we just really want to support her.”
The two women agree, “Yes, of course!”
After a quick lunch, Janice gets up to leave. After she leaves, one of her lunch partners, Andrea, gets up and goes over to another table with two women having lunch and sits down.
Practically whispering, she asks, “Did you hear about Cynthia?”
“No, what?” they say, leaning in with curiosity, glad to be sharing what is apparently a secret.
“Yeah, she’s got some female problems and some marital issues. You have to keep it quiet, though. Don’t tell anybody where you heard this from. All right? You know, we just want to be there for her and make sure to support her.”
The two women mumble their agreement, and they all get up and go their separate ways. One of them, Sandra, sees Cynthia in the hall and goes over to her. “Oh my gosh, Cynthia, I just heard,” says Sandra, as all the color drains from Cynthia’s face and her mouth sags open in surprise. “I’m so sorry about everything that’s going on! I’ve had two miscarriages myself, so I know what it’s like. And, you know, my husband and I were separated for a time.” Cynthia is mortified as it hits her that everyone knows, and she hides her face in her hands. “We were able, through counseling, to work it out, though, so don’t give up,” says Sandra.
“Gotta run!” She hurries off, noticing that her supportive comments have not been well received and feeling a little bit hurt about it.
Cynthia groans. The role-play ends.As I watched the role-play, I thought, “Yuck! Another role-play about gossip!” But when I asked the group to discuss what they had seen, an argument broke out about whether or not this role-play was about gossip. I was baffled. I could not understand what the argument was about, but the group quickly changed the subject and went on to discuss the other three role-plays that had been performed. I left the session still confused about that argument. An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>