Vail Valley Voices: Heard it through the grapevine
August 3, 2010
We live in a culture of gossip. An industry has been built on celebrity gossip. Washington runs on rumor and speculation. And many a neighborhood has been rocked by neighbors dishing over the fence.
Gossip is as old as time. I blame our ancestors. Oral tradition is just old school gossip. We know they were developing moral codes and passing culturally significant traditions and stories down through the generations with storytelling, but surely they mixed in some extra juicy tidbits to keep the plotlines moving.
None of us are innocent of this. We have all gossiped from time to time, sometimes with intent, sometimes unintentionally, when things get passed along in the course of a conversation that shouldn’t be. Or we say things that we believe to be true, but actually are not.
What compels us to gossip? We all have the need as humans to connect with others. Perhaps sharing stories about other people is a bonding experience. Maybe it helps us learn more about human nature and the kind of person we want to be. Maybe it’s curiosity, that we’re intrigued by what’s going on in other people’s lives.
In the moment, sharing gossip with someone can seem fun, titillating even. But it carries with it so much negativity. Does it make us feel better about our lives and ourselves to share the misfortune of others? Is it boredom? Does it make us feel superior, allowing us to build our self-esteem by tearing apart someone else? Surely envy, anger, spite and revenge play a hand as well.
The thing about gossip is that we don’t know how hurtful and destructive it is until it’s too late. People talk without regard to others’ feelings or without thinking about the possible implications of what they are saying. Things are accepted as fact whether they are or not.
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Just because rumors spread like wildfire doesn’t give them validity. Stories morph. Facts get left out and new elements get added in. The context of an event is ignored. The anecdote that started with a grain of truth gets blown out of proportion. Sometimes stories are fabricated altogether.
Gossip can impact people’s lives dramatically, change someone’s perception of a person or a company, damage reputations, potentially destroy businesses and relationships. It reframes how people see someone, making them live under the banner of a rumor, labeling them, not allowing them to be anything but that.
The most damaging situation is when kids hear their parents gossip and they repeat it, not realize they’re hurting people with every word that comes out of their mouths. They likely don’t fully understand what they hear and they don’t have the context in which to put things that we have as adults. If the rumor a child hears is about one of their parents, it can permanently damage their relationship, making them question everything, destroying the child’s very foundation.
We all know someone who has the reputation of being the gossip. Some people may not mean any harm. In their minds, they truly may just be the distributor of information, keeping friends connected.
But there are also those who devour the stories about the misadventures and foibles of others, collecting them in an arsenal, perhaps threatening the subjects of the tale with exposure, using the rumors to attack, to embarrass, to injure. Just knowing fuels their fire. Repeating the rumor makes them feel powerful.
Wouldn’t it be nice if more people thought before they spoke? Next time you’re about to repeat something you heard, stop and ask yourself, “Do I really need to repeat this? Is there anything positive about what is going to come out of my mouth?” And whether the story is true or not is not even the point. The point is that it’s probably not your story to tell and it’s none of you damn business anyway!
Live your own life and leave others to do the same. Have some compassion for others and let people deal privately with their struggles and mistakes. Focus your energy on something positive, something that builds people up, not tears them down. You might find that you elevate yourself in the process.
Linda Stamper Boyne, of Edwards, can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org.