Society

How to handle those meddlesome relatives

gossip

Young women gossiping. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • Gossiping started its life as a good thing and that some experts in human psychology have argued that gossiping (also called exchange of ideas) is a normal human instinct that should not be suppressed.
  • Relatives talking about you harshly and passing falsehood are acts of a 60,000-year-old attribute of human evolution.

Question: Sorry this may have been asked before but how do you politely deal with relatives who are so judgmental about everything? They thrive on falsehood and mistrust of others. Could this be a mental issue?

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On the face of it, yours is a rather simple question that can be dismissed in a few sentences and perhaps without much thought.

In reality, you have asked a very deep question that must take us through considerations of who relatives are, why we need them, and indeed ask the question, what is the meaning and purpose of community living. It is only with answers to these questions that we can meaningfully address yours.

Put differently you have asked a question that demands that we look at human evolution and more specifically at language development.

Coming back to your question briefly and by way of paraphrasing, you would like to know why your relatives are such gossips, but you would also like us to help you deal with the negative aspects of gossip. That in a nutshell would seem to be your question.

Before we help you deal with your gossiping relatives, you may want to consider the fact that the art of gossiping is a relatively new human activity, having come to us only in the last 60,000 years of human existence.

Before that, we could not gossip because we did not have the language with which to do so! Like our cousins the chimpanzees and bonobos, we communicated by making sounds and touching each other, as in scratching each other in the back to express friendship.

In time, over the years, as we came down from life in the trees, we became upright and did not need to walk on all fours. Our brains became bigger and more complex. Put differently we evolved as humans and the size of our brains relative to the rest of the body became very large.

With this sudden increase in the size of our brains came the evolution of language which soon saw the development of gossip. We could, at last, be able to tell our relatives where to find the best berries and where water could be found with ease and in time, we told each other which were the best hunting routes.

It even became possible to tell each other who were the good and which were the bad people. The kind and considerate relatives and neighbours were also discussed in words! Mean and cruel people could be avoided even if one had not met them before, because, by the use of this new tool, one could gossip for the benefit and safety of those he cared for.

Language had changed the way life was to be lived forever. Stories became possible and humans could travel in their stories to places they had never been to. Because of this ability the size of the groups one could belong to, increased in size to its present number of 150 people. Language leads to many changes in society that are uniquely human.

In this theory, one has a maximum number of five intimate relationships, knows a maximum of 1500 people by name and has meaningful relationships with a maximum of 150 people. All this is aided by the fact that we can gossip to each other. We have sounds that we make that mean the same thing to those that have large brains like us.

Coming back to your relatives and their talking about you, you must remember that gossiping started its life as a good thing and that some experts in human psychology have argued that gossiping (also called exchange of ideas) is a normal human instinct that should not be suppressed.

You may also want to think about the fact that most people gossip about people who have desirable characteristics that the gossiper does not have (a new boyfriend, a car, a house or even a new job).

As your relatives continue to gossip about you, what is it that you do that they are jealous about? Also, why do you want them to stop admiring you? You must be doing something right!

The only person who must not be in a position to spread what you call “falsehood” about you is yourself. You must evaluate yourself and make sure that your judgement of yourself and self-worth is promotive of good mental health.

Some people come to us because of low self-esteem. They feel that others are better off in one way or another. That, (coming back to your question), can be a sign of a mental illness such as depression.

Happily for you as you have seen, relatives talking about you harshly and passing falsehood are acts of a 60,000-year-old attribute of human evolution. When you meet them again, give them what they need, a brief history of human and language development.