No community needs a rumor mill

  • Published: Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020

In a community, gossip destroys morale, creates negative energy; and stops people from becoming a united team. Gossip will discourage volunteers and others working in the community. It can also give the community a negative reputation.

Stopping gossip is an individual responsibility.

Just like a stone thrown in a pond causes a ripple that has a wide-reaching impact, individual decisions to stop gossip can help shut down the community rumor mill. 

This ripple effect applies to online (social media) discussions and sharing too.

Volunteers that specialize in gossip run our community rumor mill. Unfortunately, the rumor mill does not turn a profit or generate any tax revenue. The only product made at the rumor mill results in hurt lives and damage to organizations and communities.

Our goal should be to put the rumor mill out of business. First, we need to define it to remove the mystery.

Rumor is any unverified information. Verification takes more than one eyewitness typically.

Slander is false or malicious information about a person/organization with the intent to harm.

Gossip is sensational talk passed on because of its “juicy” nature, whether true, rumor or slander.

Residents of a community, and certainly leaders in the community, need to be champions of unity and stalwart critics of anything that jeopardizes unity. That means we must recognize the danger of gossip and rumor, speak against it, and challenge it when it shows up in public forums.

Still, do not believe me, consider how fast a rumor can spread. Then how many times have you seen the final true story turn out to be very different from the rumor?

Putting the community rumor mill out of business requires individual action.

First, when someone starts to share gossip with you, change the subject. If a conversation is not heading in a helpful direction, choose to be the one who changes the subject. 

Second, say something positive about the person or organization targeted by gossip. Remind people that the person they are talking about has said or done something good by mentioning something specific and positive.

Third, confront gossip politely yet firmly. It can sometimes be a good idea to point out missing information too. This is especially important with social media. Share facts and challenge information that is wrong.

On social media, it may also be best to not comment on the post but rather to message the individual or administrator to have a discussion offline.

Psychologists say that when someone is trying to involve you in gossip, the best thing to ask is: “Why are you telling me this?” The question disrupts any self-serving motive and shows you do not want to be involved.

These facts are important for leaders to remember. It is so easy to fall into a trap, thinking rumors and gossip are harmless. But there are several negative impacts.

For starters, gossip will come back to hurt you personally. Earning a reputation as a gossip will isolate you because no one will trust you. Gossip does hurt other people. Most importantly, gossip spreads lies, and that makes the rumor mill a toxic business.

Writer: David Burton

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David Burton

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