Jeffrey Polet mounts a defense of gossip:

Imagine, for example, that a close mutual acquaintance seems to be drinking too much, which causes increased levels of concern among that person’s intimates. It would not only be natural but also right for those persons to discuss it. Are we perceiving this correctly? What kind of problem is this person facing, and how significant a problem is it? How ought we address it? That it becomes a matter of mutual concern is due to the fact that we are thickly embedded in social relations which sustain us, and upon which we are dependent. That we do not confront directly or immediately is due to, on the one hand, the normal human capacity for self-deception.

On the other hand, we might not want to confront someone unless we are confident we have assessed the situation correctly. Gossip, then, is a kind of risk-management strategy within tightly knit communities by which we figure out how to navigate complicated relationships.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.