Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Something to Talk About

I have a friend who hates gossip. She is the most private person I have ever met, hands down. We've been friends for 15 years and I have no idea who else she meets for lunch. She never mentions names, never passes along whatever she's heard, never indulges in gossip, and seldom says anything about anybody.

That's not to say we don't talk about things, we do, but it's within a very limited box. Sometimes it's a frustrating one but I have learned to live within those confines with her.

Being a newspaper reporter for 30+ years of my life, I have been told my share of things that I was expected not to repeat. "Off the record," used lightly in the movies and on TV shows, is still said to me frequently even though my newspaper writing days have dwindled. It's as if people think I am eagerly hanging on to their every word because I might want to make a note of it. And you never know, I might, but generally I don't, unless I happen to be performing an actual interview for the express purpose of writing about something you're doing.

A note to the clueless, though: just because you say, "Oh, and off the record, thus and such happened," doesn't mean it actually *is* off the record unless the reporter actually agrees to that, in some kind of formal understanding that should at least include a handshake. Just tossing it out there doesn't make it so. Generally, I abided by my interviewee's wishes or found a secondary source for the information, because I am nice like that, but many reporters completely dismiss those words. Off the record? You'll see it in print, especially if you aren't talking to me.

Just so you know. Off the record, of course.

Anyway, I have kept many secrets over the years. Some I still keep. Some I kept for a specified period of time, and then I let them out of the box when it was time to do so. Some secrets I keep until I hear other people talking about them, and then I know the word is out - but it didn't come from me.

Telling tales is changing with technology. It's done with texts now, or on Facebook. Gossip has gone visual and in writing, and that kind of backbiting and sniping is difficult to take back. Didn't want to announce that promotion just yet but your coworker did on Facebook? Oops. Too late. And you can't take it back. What might once have reached one ear has now reached 1,000 eyes.

This past summer, my husband was the topic of conversation for a while after he injured himself on the farm. Hundreds of people were talking about him and what happened, maybe even a thousand people, judging by the phone calls I fielded during the 5 days he was in the hospital. I didn't mind. Well, I minded the phone calls while I was trying to deal with the hospital and his initial injury, but mostly I was happy that people cared enough to inquire, to ask how they could help, to see what had happened. I would rather they hear the truth from me than make up something, anyway.

Gossip is different from telling the news or truths about what is happening with people. Gossip is frequently untrue. Much of what is said is based on a single little truth and then enlarged. The details aren't confirmed. Being a newspaper reporter means I always confirm my details before I say anything. I try very hard not to spread rumors.

However, I am human; we all are, and even my most private friend lets things slip from time to time. Telling stories is a big part of who we are. It's how we learn and how we process information. Studies show it is a social bonding mechanism. Talking about other people is what we do.

With the Internet, though, gossip has reached a new level. I cringe when I see the wolves pounce on some celebrity who has thoughtlessly made an off-hand comment. He or she is eaten alive by the twitters who chomp as though their own existence depends on this other person's opinions.

Every one has a right to an opinion. If you don't agree with it, then you should explain your opinion, not attack other people. It's rather scary, how quickly a single comment is taken out of context and the hounds are let loose.

You have to have a thick skin to be out in the world these days, where the demon dogs are ready to grab you by the throat and shake you to bring you back in line.


  1. Oh oh..you have hit a nerve...and how right you are...great post. As I was just telling another blogger--where you come with or how you write it on paper/blog is beyond me..I can barely put my thoughts down correctly, wink. Blessings (and most of the demon dogs are ones family who gossip terribly on social media...just terrible...) And that my friend, is not gossip, that is the truth. There is a difference between gossip and telling the truth. Unfort...in todays times of social media, one can barely know the difference.

  2. i'm a very open person and i try not to "gossip" per se, but i do mention what others are doing or did to other friends...otherwise what is there to talk about? that would be difficult for me to be like your one friend but i do admire that! oh and i totally know the fb attack thing...i generally stay away from posts that i don't agree with...fb is meant for fun, not to take your last stand.


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