I heard a rumor the other day that I was moving to a different city. A few years ago there was a rumor that I was not taking any new clients. Neither of these is true, but it got me thinking about rumors—how they start and how they spread.
It reminds me of the game we played when I was young called “pass the word.”
A group of children would sit in a circle, and one would whisper something into their neighbor’s ear. That one would whisper it to the next, and it would be passed around the circle. The last one to receive the message stated it aloud. Then the originator would say what actually had been said, and there would be gales of laughter at how distorted the message had become. It was a child’s game, but there is so much we can learn from it.
How often do we ask ourselves, when we pass on something we have heard, whether or not it is true? I have worked with many high school students who have been devastated by rumors they have heard about themselves. They are devastated because rumors are so hard to refute. You could never reach all the people who have heard the rumor and believe it. Even if you could, there is no guarantee they would believe you when you say it is not true.
Sadly, gossip and rumor spreading do not end with high school. Some seem to make it a lifetime hobby, without even thinking about how they are compromising their integrity. To gossip about someone behind their back whilst being warm and friendly in their presence is two-faced. To spread damaging rumors without absolute knowledge that they are true, whether you know the person or not, is insidious.
If someone shares something with us in conversation, confidential or not, does that give us the right to repeat it to someone else? I do not really think it does, for then it becomes gossip. Perhaps we would be wise to live by the words of Albert Einstein: “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
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