While Jewish tradition suggests that closeness and unity with others is created through giving, secular psychology has another suggestion. To quote the summary of this impressive research described in Ladies Home Journal (Sept. 2006), "Bonding may go best precisely when what you and your buddy have in common is a dislike for another person."
In further encouragement of this activity, the article encourages us that "trash-talking friendships can actually be powerful."
Yes -- powerfully hurtful and powerfully destructive.
Although we all recognize the tendency, even desire, to speak negatively of others, most of us are also aware of its deleterious impact. Most of us are trying to, at the very least, minimize it in our lives. At the most, eliminate it all together. Will we then be relegated to a life of loneliness? Will we have few friendships or less powerful ones?
I like to think that what my friends and I have in common goes a little deeper than a shared dislike. (It's the shoes!) I like to think that what connects us is something more substantial than rumor and "dish." (The shoes again!) In fact I like to believe that rarely do we engage in the pastime of putting down others.
Not necessarily because we're so righteous but perhaps because the struggles of our own lives -- as individuals and as a community -- are so much more pressing and important. And so all-consuming. Our desire to grow and change and behave with thoughtfulness is a deeper bond than the latest news in People magazine.
Of course we sometimes want to gossip or speak lashon hara to a friend, especially if we're hurt and confused. Sometimes we do it with appropriate justification. Sometimes we do it with no justification. But we don't usually do it as a way of deepening our relationships. In fact I would like to challenge the research. I would suggest that it stopped too soon. While speaking ill of mutual acquaintances may initially create a bond, a habit of such behavior will be alienating and make all "relationships" suspect -- the old "what is she saying about me to our other friends" concern.
I'm certainly not perfect (my kids want to second that motion). And I'm certainly not immune to the desire to speak or listen (or bond). Yet when a society takes an obviously poor character choice and elevates it to a positive act that creates relationships, I have to open my mouth. Trash-talk is used to intimidate another team on the football field. Seems a strange tool for building a deep and lasting relationship.