Gossip, rumors, and maybe even slander

15 Jan

People talk about other people.  We have this huge fascination with the things other people do, and for some reason, we’re even more enthralled by the negative things than we are by the positive things.

We’ve been that way for our entire recorded history, it seems.

You think I’m wrong?  Think again.  Try to think of some good things that happened in ancient history.  We don’t remember them–we remember the murders, the kidnappings, the horrible acts…not the acts of kindness and all the other things we consider wonderful.  It’s these horrible acts done by one person to another that fascinate us, that make for “classic drama” and stories.

Maybe it’s time we start to evaluate this tendency and perhaps tone it down.

I’m not saying that we need to start burying our heads in the sand, but seriously…wouldn’t it be nice to sit down after work and turn on the television to see the news, and see how someone has done something wonderful rather than the latest grisly crime scene?  To get up in the morning, put on the coffee and your robe, stroll out to get the newspaper, and open it up…to see how someone has planted a beautiful garden somewhere right on the front page, and the latest murder is relegated to the “Crime and Horror” section, third inside from the front?

Heck I’d rather read about Betty Sue Boudreaux’ third wedding and the gorgeous white lace dress she had custom made rather than about how Bobby Joe Devereaux has gotten drunk, had a wreck, killed someone and then ran from the cops before kidnapping someone else and stole their car and before robbing a bank.

But no, we have the gruesome and grisly, the illegal and immoral right in the front section of the newspaper, and reading about the wonderful new program for kids in the community is buried somewhere deep in the paper, where we’re apt to miss it if we’re short on time.   We sure don’t want to miss that negative stuff.

It’s not just mass media either.  We do it in conversations too.  That’s where the gossip and rumors are.  We also don’t gossip about what a wonderful person Miss Emily Ransome is, no we’re going to talk about something immoral or negative she’s done or said instead.  It doesn’t even have to be true–in fact, it’s probably far juicier and more desirable if it isn’t!  It’s as though many people have lives so incredibly boring and nondescript that they are forced to start creating a mental fiction about what other people are doing, and then tell someone else what they THINK is happening.

It’s easy to laugh and shrug most of it off.  I have often been highly amused by the things that I had supposedly done, at least according to rumors and gossip.  It seems that this fantasy life was far more interesting than the one I was actually leading.  But every once in a while, that rumor or tidbit of gossip can hurt, and hurt in ways that it never should have been able to.  I’ve been challenged in job interviews about things that were nothing more than rumors or gossip too, and asked to explain them.  Illegal?  Maybe…but in a small town, legal technicalities often don’t matter.

Rumors and gossip can destroy friendships and even families too.  More than one divorce has started with a rumor or bit of gossip, and unfortunately…it is rarely true.  Maybe in an ideal world, that rumor couldn’t have caused such a thing, but most relationships have an “Achilles heel” or crack in them somewhere…and sometime.  The gossip finds it, and begins the process of bringing the whole relationship down.

Did the person who first passed on that juicy tidbit have that as an intention?  Probably not, but there have been more than one occasion that I’ve noted that someone was motivated…by one thing or another…to cause havoc.  Usually it’s a case of an innocent remark, and by the time it’s passed through a dozen hands, it’s grown even bigger and totally out of proportion.  Remarking about how “Susan and Johnny seem to work very well together” has been more than one occasion ultimately delivered as “Susan and Johnny are having an affair at work together.”  The original comment contained neither an accusation nor malice, but ultimate delivery may have well done so.

It’s also funny how in the case of rumors and gossip, we aren’t “innocent until proven guilty” but rather “guilty until absolute proof of innocence can be produced.”

In the past, rumors and gossip were managed via that proverbial grapevine, passed from one person to another by word of mouth either in person or by telephone, occasionally by letters.  Today, with the advent of Twitter and Facebook, along with the 101 other flavors of social media…we can have a rumor hit the international waves within minutes of someone typing it into their screen and hitting enter, and it passes at  a rate that makes a flu epidemic look slow.  There is no incubation period, it’s just gone!

It also never goes away.  It can be traced.  You can’t deny it, even if you delete it, because somewhere, someone has a copy of what you originally said.

And often, it crosses the line of legality too, from just speculation to things such as slander and defamation of character.  Granted, no one is charged each and every time that this occurs, but…

What if you are the next one that IS?

  • Think before you accuse someone of something.
  • Think again before clicking “share” or “repost”
  • Try verifying things–a lot of things are already known to be untrue or an actual hoax.
  • Try being a little bit kind.  We don’t have to display each tidbit of dirty laundry we discover about someone else.  Believe me, your dirty laundry can come out just as quickly.
  • And maybe, just maybe, your mother was right when she said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
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