|artwork © Geonni Banner|
An old proverb relates the story of a person who repeated gossip — some rumor about a neighbor. Soon, the whole community had heard the rumor. Later, the person who spread the gossip learned that the rumor was untrue. The person was very sorry and went to an elder in the community who had a reputation for great wisdom to seek advice. The elder told the person, “Go to your home and take a feather pillow outside. Rip it open and scatter the feathers, then return to me tomorrow.” The person did as the elder had instructed. The next day, the person visited the elder. The elder said, “Go and collect the feathers you scattered yesterday and bring them back to me.” The person went home and searched for the feathers, but the wind had carried them all away. The person returned to the elder and said, “I could find none of the feathers I scattered yesterday.” “You see,” said the elder, “it’s easy to scatter the feathers but impossible to get them back.” So it is with gossip; it doesn’t take much to spread hurtful words, but once you do, you can never completely undo the damage.
I recently heard a potentially damaging (aren’t they all? Why else would they be passed along?) rumor about a friend of mine that was a lie. The lie being spread was “made up out of whole cloth” by someone else I know. It concerned my friend allegedly abusing the use of a disabled parking placard. I heard it form a more considerate friend who asked me if I knew if the rumor was true. I assured her it was not.
The penalty for the abuse of one of these placards could be as much as $4,200.00.
Of course, a quick check of the facts by law enforcement would clear my friend. But the damage to my friend’s reputation as an honest person could not be fixed. People would remember it when dealing with my friend, but even if they had also heard that the rumor was a lie, it would still be lodged in the hearer’s memory, remembered, and such impressions are difficult to displace.
Rumor has a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths, a voice of iron. – Virgil
While most bullying happens face-to-face, rumors are a behind-the-back kind of bullying that can be just as damaging. Gossip and rumors are just as painful as physical aggression.
People need to take responsibility for hurting or potentially hurting someone with rumors and then work to make restitution.
If you start or repeat a rumor, you need to:
- Go to everyone you told and tell them it wasn’t true
- Ask them to stop spreading it
- Tell everyone you want to correct the damage done
- Repair any harm done to the target