The Rumor Mills of Small Communities

I’ve been thinking about the destructive nature of gossip lately, particularly as I keep hearing things about other people I know in town from people who somehow think it is okay to talk about others in negative ways. The next time this happens, I’m going to say something about “glass houses.” You know the saying.

My exasperation with gossip here led me to post this to my Facebook profile:

The rumor mill in this town is cruel & out of control. Even me – the gal who is a total outsider – is told things about others that I don’t believe & even if I did, I really don’t need to know. If you start with “I heard that” or “Did you know ” then are about to mention a person other than yourself, shut up.

Personally, I’m fairly untouched by the gossip about me. Yes, I’ve heard some of the things that people say about me here, but I know none of it is true, and the people who actually matter don’t believe or care what is said and are smart enough to consider the source.

None of the gossip really sticks anyway because I know the people who are privy to the truth about me, my family and my life are good and trusted friends. Nobody else has access to anything other than what I tell them personally or publish online. I have nothing to hide really – I’ve blogged about everything before so am pretty immune. Others who aren’t used to living so publicly aren’t as inured.

There are several reasons why people gossip about others – and this is true in any community and even in industries or any environment where there are people:

  1. Insecurity. People who feel good about their own lives don’t gossip hurtfully about others.
  2. Envy. This ties in with #1. If a person is insecure, they see someone else’s good life or good fortune as something to envy so they look for ways to hurt or reduce that other person so they aren’t reminded of what they don’t have.
  3. Ignorance. Some people just aren’t smart enough to realize the damage they are doing – not just to others but to themselves – by gossiping.
  4. Boredom. When someone is bored with their life, they spend far too much time concerned about what others are doing.
  5. Cruelty. There are some people who are angry and bitter so they lash out by saying hurtful things about others thinking it will make them feel better.
  6. Sickness. There are some people for whom gossiping is a sign of a greater psychological disorder. I met one of those people when I first arrived here and got inadvertently sucked in for a brief time. Luckily, I learned what was going on, cut ties immediately and unequivocally, and worked to make amends to those who were affected.

No matter what the cause, gossip is just wrong. It doesn’t even matter if what is being spread around is true – it is none of our damn business unless it directly affects our own – or our family’s – safety or well being. Nine times out of 10, the gossip you are hearing is not true – so why would you ever want to repeat it – it just makes you look like a liar.

More than anything, remember that each time you talk about someone else in a negative way, you are painting yourself as a bad person who cannot be trusted. Even your so-called “friends” who seem to relish the gossip you spread know good and well that you aren’t a person who can be trusted. Deep down inside they are wondering “What are they saying about me when I’m not around?” And those who seem to love the gossip you share are the kind of people who won’t think twice about saying something negative about you. And trust me, they are.

Next time someone starts to tell you salacious things about someone else, just look them in the eye and make it clear that you JUST. DON’T. CARE. And next time you feel the urge to say something negative about someone else, JUST. SHUT. UP.

What are your thoughts on gossip?

stock xchng image by jlburgess

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11 Comments

  1. I hear you Aliza, thanks for the thoughtful post. I’ve lived in towns as small as 500 people and as large as 80,000 and gossip is gossip is gossip – doesn’t change much really. Gossip seems to travel in small circles and like an electrical charge arcs to other circles as the gossipers move from group to group. Seems to me small towns get saturated quicker but the results are the same – someone always gets hurt.

    Two things stand out in my mind. 1) I’ve heard gossip described as dog poop. One person brings it in on their shoes and before you know it everyone has some on their shoes and the whole place stinks. 2) I’ve also heard an old saying that small people talk about other people; great people talk about ideas. Maybe we could all try to focus our conversations more on the ideas less about other people (and keep the poop off our shoes).

    Be well and keep going good.

    Reply
  2. Leah @bookieboo

     /  November 25, 2010

    I was just a victim of gossip. It was so hurtful and I think the person who was spreading it has a personality disorder because she really had it out for me and I’ve never done anything to her. This is an unfortunate part of life. Thanks for the post. Xxoo

    Reply
  3. Fogwoman Gray

     /  November 26, 2010

    Well said. I have seen it in online communities as well. What is often tagged as “drama” is more often realistically “gossip”.
    I was fascinated to read in the book Jewish Literacy that some rabbis equate gossip with murder insofar as being sinful is concerned. The rationale is that in neither case can the perpetrator undo the crime or it’s consequences.
    Favorite related parable of gossip in a small town:
    A man has gossiped about his neighbor, causing the other man great harm. The gossip feels very regretful and contrite and goes to his rabbi to ask what he can do. After careful thought, the rabbi instructs the gossip to go home and take a feather pillow from his bed. He is to take the feather pillow out to one corner of his fields and open the pillow, scattering the feathers to the wind. The gossip is quite pleased to hear that this is all he must do. He rushes home and follows the rabbi’s instructions exactly. The man then goes back to the rabbi, very pleased, and announces that his task is completed. The rabbi looks very grave, and says to him “Oh no, that is not your task. Your task is to now go and gather up each and every one of those feathers.”

    Reply
  4. The sickest people in small communities start the gossip for their own sick reasons. It’s all about the bully, not the target. They pick people who have good qualities that they envy and want to make the person look bad. Then the most backwards people continue to spread the mostly false rumors. They destroy people’s lives. It can turn into a village mobbing, shunning, and demonizing. I have experienced it. In Alaska it continues on to the state agencies and in my case even to the governor’s office(of course that governor is one of them). It was a part of workplace bullying in my case, but this all comes from the same deranged people who practice hurting other people their whole lives for all the reasons you list. Some organizations that work on workplace bullying like to say workplace bullies only practice this at work. The research shows the opposite, they generally practice it in their personal lives as well. In the US they perpetuate this lie because they make their living getting contracts from companies where workplace bullying has gone on a long time. They know if they tell the truth the companies will be defensive and not hire them, and they won’t get as many contracts. Thank you for telling the truth about small town bullies which are a huge problem in Alaska. A lot of them were run off from other places and end up in rural Alaska destroying people. They come here to small towns where it is easier to gain power and where they may be so desperate for a particular kind of professional they will hire just about anyone. The problem has been studied extensively in Europe and Australia.

    Reply
  5. Gindy52

     /  November 27, 2010

    We had a vile gossip in our small neighborhood of 10 families. For some strange reason he delighted in taking whatever you told him, even something as mundane as the TP you used, and turning it into a scandal. Eventually he picked on the wrong family (ours). We were not cowed by him, could have cared less who he influenced, and publicly berated him in front of several members of the other families at a neighborhood party. He moved within 4 months. By facing him and putting his lies and gossip out there for all to see, we got him shunned and he left with his tail between his legs. THAT is how you deal with gossips and bullies.

    Reply
  6. Little Bird

     /  November 28, 2010

    Very good post, Aliza.
    Elsewhere you have talked about the boredom and depression that comes from so little light in winter in climates like Alaska. Hardly anyone is immune with only 3-4 hours of sunlight. One thing that can really help are full spectrum lights around the house – have you tried them? They can help as much as Vitamin D and some of my friends use them year round.

    Reply
  7. Suzanne Moberg-Dyakanoff

     /  November 28, 2010

    I lived in Fairbanks and have been through Tok many times. There was a link from your site titled frozenjustice.blogspot.com That site had an image of some blue Alaskan wild flowers. I was unable to copy that image. If you are able to capture that image, please post it and I can copy it with share. I
    like the article. If someone gossips to you they are probably gossiping about you to sombody else.

    Reply
  8. Linda Arizona

     /  December 1, 2010

    I’ve only visited your interesting blog twice, so I don’t really know a lot about what is going on in your town.

    It may get me some flak, but here goes. I disagree with you a bit. I think that the general rule about gossip, of which you write and others respond positively, conflates the very real necessity for people having a voice, speaking out against those who are wreaking havoc in a village or a nation.

    If we all were to take the advice never to gossip, i. e., never tell another neighbor or relative or fellow citizen anything negative about another, then we must not speak negatively of people like Scarah Phalin. That would be gossip, wouldn’t it?

    I’ll give you a good example why sharing negative info about another can be a good thing. My neighbor, an 85 year old resident, was defrauded out of $1500 by a charmer around the corner. She had to take him to court and have his wages garnished. Five years later, he has never shown any remorse.

    This charmer continues to schmooze with any woman in the neighborhood who will listen. The elderly neighbor recently saw him chatting up the kindly mail carrier, a very sweet lady, and asked me to warn her. I did. The mail carrier thanked me. Did I do a good deed? Or, was I butting in? After all, I wasn’t his victim.

    Having been a victim of gossip, which I define as outright lying for another’s spurious agenda (in a public forum to discredit my family’s volunteer work in our community), I am aware how hurtful mean spirited, behind the back lying, can be.

    My best advice is this: If your motive is to protect an innocent person, to expose illegal activity, to prevent further violence or injury (monetary, physical or psychological), then I am for it.

    If we want community, we must be willing to understand that some sociopathic or just plain nasty folk will misuse their voices and try to prevent us from using ours as we try not to imitate them. It sounds as though you have been building very good alliances.

    I wish you peace in your neighborhood. I can assure you that as you build alliances and history of generosity with your neighbors, you will inoculate yourself and your neighbors from the kind of gossip you write about.

    Changing the subject here….You are so brave to live in such a climate. You have my admiration—from Arizona!

    Reply
  9. Polly

     /  December 1, 2010

    Thanks for your article.. I agree.

    Reply
  10. Joetta Colquette

     /  December 5, 2010

    Thank you so much for your post on gossip! I have battled this for the past 6 and a half years that I have lived here! I will even go one step further, and state that I believe gossip is a form of murder, as gossip destroys someone’s reputation, possibly one’s present and future and can destroy one’s hope!
    It is sad that this destructive habit colors the character of our community; there are wonderful people who live here~!

    Reply
  11. Mark

     /  December 23, 2010

    You folks are lucky, we have dreamed of living in Alaska for years. If we did finally make the move to be honest, I could care less what people may say under their breath. I would value the peace and quiet and again could care less if folks decided not to talk to me over a rumor, just more space for me.

    Reply

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