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.