Wednesday, June 25, 2014
"Did You Hear About...? A Look at Rumors and Gossip"
I abhor rumors and gossip. They're petty, destructive, and hateful. Yet, truth-be-told, I have engaged in gossip from time-to-time. I'm not proud of it, just honest. I could try to justify it by saying that I've only done so out of concern for others. Sometimes the sharing of information about another person can genuinely be an act of concern. One may do so to gain insight into their behaviors in order to offer them assistance with a personal issue or to alert others who may need to know so they may intervene. In all honesty, I've never spoken unkindly about anyone to defame them, to damage their reputation or relationship with another person, or for the sheer entertainment of it. But I have gossiped. No excuse.
People who engage in gossip (whether it's initiating it, listening to it, or sharing it) relish the feeling of power and importance it momentarily affords them. "If you need the dirt on anyone talk to Sally. She knows everything about everyone!" However, gossip reveals much more about the one prompting it than the one being spoken about. Gossip exposes a person's insecurities and fears. They struggle with issues of low self-esteem and need to engage in behaviors that give them a sense of authority and significance and restore balance to their lives. If I'm worried that John is getting too cozy with the boss, I may fabricate an unflattering narrative about him in order to damage his reputation and once again secure my status as the boss's favorite. Problem solved (at least in my mind) but at what cost?. More importantly though, gossip reveals a definitive lack of character, moral integrity, and trustworthiness in those who engage.
Some also converse out of revenge. You discover your boyfriend has been talking to his ex girlfriend again so you start a rumor that she's addicted to diet pills. Keep in mind that rumors and gossip have distinct differences. Rumors generally consist of spreading information without knowing it's source or accuracy and may or may not be about an individual. (Remember Chicken Little? He alerted the public that the sky was falling without checking his facts and got everyone's bloomers in a bunch.) Rumors can be relatively harmless or can cause damage or panic. The on-air reading of Orson Wells book, The War of the Worlds, caused wide-spread panic among radio listeners everywhere. Gossip, on the other hand, always targets an individual and generally is intended to cause some form of harm to them. Whether fact-based or purely speculative, gossip has been known to seriously damage reputations, poison relationships, end careers, and ruin lives. I have had vicious gossip mongers spread lies about me that seriously damaged my relationship with my children culminating in a ten-year estrangement. Another jealous individual attacked me professionally with purely fabricated propaganda severe enough to warrant a call to my attorney. I nipped that in the bud before sustaining any damage to my career.
Many years ago, two seven-year old boys spread a rumor that their teacher had molested them. Although she maintained her innocence, a trial led to her conviction and prison sentence. Ten years passed and the boys confessed that it was a childish prank. While she chose to forgive those who caused her embarrassment and suffering, her life had forever been changed.
*The Great Truth
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