He Said, She Said – The Perils of Gossip
I’ve never been one to participate in gossip. It doesn’t matter where you are on the chain of information—whether you are the first or second link, a link somewhere in the middle, or a link closer to the bottom—it’s not first-hand knowledge, half of the information is bound to be untruthful or will end up being untruthful, and the information originated from an untrustworthy friend who has fooled someone into believing that they are trustworthy.
When hearing people gossip, I’m often reminded of an elementary school teacher who had my class participate in a game called telephone. The entire class sat in a circle, and, one by one, each classmate whispered the same sentence into the ear of the next classmate. Each classmate had one opportunity to use the “operator” if what was whispered couldn’t be heard. When the whispered sentence reached the last classmate, he or she stood up and announced what it was they had heard.
Of course, I have no recollection of exactly what the sentence was way back then, but I do remember that the entire class burst out in laughter because the sentence made absolutely no sense by the time it went around the circle.
After the laughter and giggles died down, my teacher engaged us in serious conversation about what happens when people talk about other people to other people. This left a lasting impression on me. I was only seven years old.
While attending college, one of my professors engaged my class in a similar activity. However, it was based on a two-minute story, and the last person to hear the story would pull the next person outside and relay the story to them. This particular exercise went through only four people. The content was a bit, well, a lot more adult, and by the time the story reached its last destination, everything was skewed beyond belief, including mention of an extra-marital affair which did not happen in the original storyline.
I wonder how lucky I am to have learned this lesson twice, once at seven and again as a refresher course in college? I don’t believe that most people have ever participated in something like this, as if they had, I don’t think there would be such a thing as gossip.
Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part…
Don't Tell Anyone I Told You, But...
In order to be an active participant in gossip, people usually have to say something that they were told not to tell, something they were told in confidence, something that they have sworn to secrecy. Sometimes this secrecy is implied based upon friendship, and it is understood due to the sensitive nature of any particular conversation. Other times it is necessary to make known that there should be no mention of the conversation under any circumstances.
It doesn’t matter what the circumstances, if you are asked not to tell, you simply don’t tell. I’m not referring to criminal activity, of course. I’m referring to an everyday discussion that occurs with a family member, a friend or even a coworker.
I have always considered myself a trustworthy person—something that I take pride in. Since I am not one to begin with, “Don’t tell anyone I told you, but…”, I happen to be the recipient of confidential information from time to time. When someone asks me not to discuss something with someone else, I remain quiet. Sometimes this is difficult to do, but I manage. The only person I ever tell everything to is my husband, and this is understood by whoever swears me to secrecy.
I also do not divulge information to others of a sensitive nature because of the old, “Well, you didn’t tell me that I couldn’t tell anyone!”
It seems that this happens quite often, and I really don’t understand why. It’s as if there needs to be a disclaimer at the beginning of conversation between friends just to ensure that a conversation between two people doesn’t become the Nightly News. A lot of times, common sense, friendship, and, well, just doing the right thing means that you shouldn’t tell a friend what your other friend told you.
Why Didn’t You Tell Me?
On the flip side, it seems that not telling could lead to trouble, too.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, I was asked not to say anything, that’s why.”
(Again, I’m not referring to criminal activity, just a discussion that you might encounter on any given day, and not something that is considered to be: Secrets, secrets are no fun; secrets, secrets hurts someone.)
The person who asks, “Why didn’t you tell me?” and receives the answer, “Because I was told not to say anything,” should probably be grateful for knowing someone whom they can trust.
Instead of holding a grudge against someone who didn’t pass on something that they were asked not to tell, it might do you good to realize that whatever you say to them is likely to stay with them rather than going through the channels of gossip. This would be true whether you tell them something in the strictest of confidence or throughout the course of normal, daily chatter.
But this is how I would see it.
I couldn’t imagine being trusted by anyone if I were to begin a conversation by saying, “Don’t tell anyone I told you, but…”
I would also have a hard time trusting anyone who would say that to me.
I also understand that when you participate in conversation with someone that was promised not to be repeated, it doesn't just lead to gossip, but it has already become the gossip.
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