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Rumors and Gossip


Rumor is actually a form of social disease – it’s not a great deal different than herpes. You pass on something you have inadvertently received from someone, generally while trying to make a good impression. Rumor generally travels faster than truth, but it hasn’t got half the shelf-life, and it often predates suspicion, beginning with the words, “I always knew…”

I have an acquaintance who tells me she never gossips, she just passes on observations to all her friends. From that I would have to assume that rumor is subject to interpretation. There’s a descriptive expression for the concept of rumor, coined by the writer Lynn Dove, who says, “‘Shoot the woundedthat’s what we do to people who are the most vulnerable… we ‘shoot the wounded.’ As if they haven’t suffered enough, we add to it by gossiping.” Isn’t that the truth? Left alone, rumor generally dies an early death, but the moment the victim denies it, it becomes fatal. I’ve heard it said that the gossip mill runs on estrogen, but I don’t believe that. I’ve known many a guy to whom rumor tasted better than beer.

Of course, in this day and age, given our social networks and the Internet, rumor can be fatal overnight. We now have the ability to distribute information we know is false at practically the speed of light. It has ruined promising politicians, killed actresses and actors, and on occasion, changed the course of political parties and countries. It’s amazing how much power we have given to rumor – something so lacking in substance and so fleeting. And indeed, even history in places, is nothing more than exaggerated gossip.

It’s sad that rumor is only really satisfying in its most slanderous form. It’s a curious thing to me how rarely we gossip about the secret virtues of friends and neighbors (and never forget that he, or she, who gossips to you, will gossip about you.) I’m reminded of the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” Remember to be careful what you let slip from your mouth, because once you release that conjecture, you can’t undo it or return it. If you must say something at all, be certain beyond doubt that it’s true, and remember, no one is immune from the disease of slander, so be careful what you tell anyone. The poet, Kahlil Gibran wrote: “If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.”

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite expressions, by the incomparable Will Rogers: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”

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