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In The Gossips, one of American painter Norman Rockwell’s most amusing and cartoonish works, he follows a tidbit of gossip as it passes from person to person until it finally reaches the ears of the subject of the rumor. He confronts the original tattletale—who is shocked that her indiscreet whisper has traveled back to its source.

Most of us yield to the temptation, at least occasionally, to relay a story that would be better kept untold. It doesn’t feel quite right, but we tell the tale anyway. So why do we do it? While we know that it can inflict real harm on a person’s reputation, it can also enhance our own. Gossip reinforces connections to influential people and puts us in the information loop; huddling together with sympathetic listeners might protect us later on.

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Thirty-One

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