My first lesson in rumors and gossip was in Miss Niles’ first grade class. A young woman with dark curly hair and a kind smile, she had all of her students line their little wooden chairs up across the front of the room and sit in them. Then she whispered something into the ear of our classmate in the first chair. I was somewhere near the end of the line and by the time I heard the whispering in my ear and passed it on to the next child, the saying was no where near what Miss Niles originally whispered. We were, of course, playing the game of ‘Telephone’.

Rumors and gossip, however, are no game. Quite often they hurt, especially if the rumors are so far from the truth as to be malicious. Every time I hear a bit of gossip that doesn’t make sense, I think of the game in Miss Niles’ first grade. We don’t always intend to pass on hurtful gossip, but each time a rumor is repeated, it seems to grow or the story changes ever so slightly, so that by the time it reaches the last person, it is no where near what it was at the start.

Why do people spread rumors? When I worked, I found the gossips to be envious or jealous of someone’s prowess in the workplace. Conversely, other workers might make fun of a co-worker’s mishap. Talking negatively about a fellow employee made the gossip feel superior, if only for a moment. Then I retired thinking all of the negative rumors were left behind along with the water cooler.

Gossip, however, apparently doesn’t retire. Just this week in a casual conversation with someone I didn’t know, we started exchanging our thoughts on writing classes. Before I knew it I was being warned off from a teacher I hadn’t heard of before. Along with some other tidbits “he’ll rip your work apart” rung in my ears. I found myself responding about how I liked critiques, but maybe I wouldn’t take that teacher’s class.

Later when I looked up the class and read the teacher’s bio, I shooed away the seeds of doubt. Honest critiques make me a better writer. Maybe the person warning me off was overly sensitive. They probably meant well, but the bad feeling lingered both about them and the teacher.

In retirement we have better things to do with our time than gossip. We have other subjects to talk about like our retirement adventures. We know who we are and what we are about. We don’t need to put someone else down in order to feel good about ourselves. We have arrived at a stage of life where we don’t want to be the victim or victimize someone else.

If you have been a victim of gossip, you know it can be hurtful, perhaps even ruining your reputation with exaggerations or worse yet, downright lies. Even innuendo can leave its mark. If someone is doing that to you, you can try talking to them about their unacceptable behavior or you can stop contact with them altogether. We have a choice. This isn’t like the workplace where we had to go to the office every day and wend our way through the trail of rumors. Now, we don’t necessarily have to continue the relationship.

If you have promoted gossip, retirement is the time to turn your energies to something more productive. You also have a choice. People who spread rumors often see themselves as victims, blaming others for their life circumstance. It is when we choose to stop being a victim that we no longer have to victimize others by gossiping about them.

In retirement we don’t need to devalue someone else in order to feel important. We are more than that. We have arrived. And we choose a life of positivity rather than negativity.

14 comments on “Rumors

  1. Great post Kathy. My elderly mother falls prey to this. She seems to not be able to help herself! She’ll say something like “I really shouldn’t tell you this…” This is where I say “please don’t tell me!”. Unfortunately it has caused some hurt feelings between siblings. It also has made me very cautious about what I say to her, knowing that anything I say will likely be repeated, and perhaps twisted a bit. So sad. But she is a done deal at 87 and not likely to change. So I focus on controlling what I can, i.e. not sharing anything too personal or anything that I don’t want the world to know.


    • Carole, When it’s family, it is an especially difficult situation. I think most of us go through some of what you describe as part of the family dynamic. Controlling what we can is about all we can do. K


  2. This reminds me of a story my mother-in-law tells about meeting her best friend, Alice (unfortunately now gone). When my MIL moved into her new home years and years ago, she was warned by the seller about how terrible the next door neighbor was and she was advised to steer well clear of her. Anyway, always the friendly optimist, my MIL went over to introduce herself to Alice right away. She found a kindred spirit and their friendship lasted well over 40 years.

    Who knows why we each react in different ways to different people, but it’s always best to check things out yourself.


  3. What a great post Kathy. My late Mother was a dreadful gossip and I used to cringe when I used to hear her gossiping with others. I now find that if I find myself being drawn to gossiping about someone I stop myself as the fear of turning into my Mother fills me with dread. Sus


  4. Kathy…
    Interesting topic that may have shed some light on a situation I experienced at work. There’s a woman at work who “loves” to spread gossip. She seems to actually get giddy when sharing personal tidbits about others. I often wondered what motivates her to take such joy in this practice but I think you nailed it when you said, “It makes them feel superior”. Her life, unfortunately, is filled with failure. So, based on your comments, I believe gossiping about the misfortunes of others makes her feel better about herself. But I have a question. She recently said to me, “Mary told me not to tell anybody but…”. So I cut her off and said, “Then don’t tell me”. And she got angry. So I told her she wasn’t being much of a friend by repeating information she was asked not to share. Then she stormed off and said I was being rude. Should I have handled this situation differently? I don’t mean to turn this into Dear Abby. But, as a guy, I’m often confused by the emotional response from women to what I see as common sense statements. Your thoughts?


    • Mike, I probably would have handled it exactly as you did. I’m no psychologist. This is based purely upon my personal experience with people. I would say this is a case where she is actually angry with herself. She may say you are the one who is rude, but she knows she is the one who is truly rude. Your refusal to partake in her little game just pointed out to her what a gossip she is. So she’s trying to make you out to be the bad guy, not her. It’s my experience as a manager that the office gossip will dish the dirt with someone and then turn around and gossip about that someone, sometimes even making them out to be the gossip! It’s best to steer clear of them. Just my thoughts. K


  5. “just between you and me” or “I’m not supposed to repeat this but..” Boy do those phrases make my ears perk up. At the same time, I ask myself, “why are you so interested in stuff your not supposed to know?” Gossip! It’s juicy. However, as Kathy points out, we who take part are often, if only subliminally, trying to make ourselves feel superior. Being aware of our thoughts and tendencies, is a good start toward curbing both gossip and that crazy need we seem to have to make ourselves better than someone else. If you are gossiping, instead of beating yourself up over it, try observing the behavior and resolving to improve.


  6. Hi Kathy,

    Years ago just before we were married, my sister and brother spread nasty untrue gossip about my fiancé to our parents. It caused my parents to not attend either of our two weddings and to remain estranged for almost a decade. When I look back at it more objectively now, I realize this was due to my siblings own insecurities at the time. It took a long while to forgive them as well.


    • Mary, As you can see from the other comments, you are not alone with the hurt family gossip can cause. Your situation seems particularly devastating. I’m sorry you had to go through that. K


  7. I am reminded that anytime you point the finger at someone else, you have three pointing back at you…gossip usually has nothing to do with the victim of the gossip, but has everything to do with that person doing the gossiping.


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