One of the diciest yet most common interpersonal issue is that of differentiating between helping, gossiping, and butting in. Let's illustrate. You've got some "informal" info hot off the press about someone you know who is having a personal crisis. Should you
- Contact the person and offer your help?
- Track down somebody who can help them?
- Spread the word so their other contacts will know what's going on with them?
- Stay out of it?
In my experience one person's "helping" may be perceived by another person as butting in. The key here is whether you have either a close personal relationship with the individual or you're in a position of authority who can genuinely do something about the situation. If you have a relationship with them, then perhaps contact them directly and ask whether you can be helpful. Here's the tricky part - if you haven't heard about the situation directly from them you've already been part of what could be considered a gossip chain, and your information might be completely inaccurate or overblown. Proceed with caution and ask questions to make sure you're not coming from left field.
If you think you can help by bringing in an expert your efforts might not be well received if you don't receive direct permission from the person first. There is more than one "right" way to handle a situation, and that person's method might be different from yours, not necessarily wrong. When you place yourself in the expert role without having relationship or authority to put you there you're going into parent ego state, and that's usually going to generate more resistance and/or resentment than it will thanks and/or compliance. The value of the solution will be overridden by the means by which it got to them. In plain terms, this is butting in.
As for spreading the word - what purpose will it serve? Oftentimes the spreader is more concerned about being seen as the person in the know than they are about being helpful. Gossip is often an attempted display of power - "I know what's going on" - or an attempt to influence the outcome by working the informal social network. Anybody who has ever played whisper down the lane knows that information gets distorted going from one person to the next. If you're a highly social person you're interested in what's going on with other people. But gossip is at its worst destructive, at it's best meddling.
Many times it's best to stay out of it and let the situation unfold without giving it more energy by getting yourself or others involved. Sometimes today's crisis fades by tomorrow. Some people express intense feelings that blow by after they've had their rant. They get over it without any intervention. Let the situation stay as small as possible with as few people involved as possible, or you could poison the well at which everybody drinks. Last, there's an old Irish saying that says "Who gossips with you will gossip of you." Consider yourself forewarned.