Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bearing False Witness

Edmund Blair Leighton

I have recently been witness to a group of people who have been involved in a situation of gossip and heresay. Have you ever played the parlor game where one person will say something, and then pass it on to the next, and so on, and so on, and by the time it has reached the last person, the original message has taken on a whole different story? It's a lot of fun, and worth a giggle. In real life? Not so much. In real life, gossip based on heresay ruins friendships and reputations, and destroys lives.

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" ... Exodus. 20:16

The people involved in this gossip are good people -- in fact they are regular church-going people (which I am not) -- so they understand the ninth commandment and the concept of bearing false witness. And yet, they are so sure of the facts, they repeat the gossip and hearsay, regardless of whether or not they could swear an oath that the facts are true. And believe me, sometimes even people's own eyes can deceive them. Ask any lawyer or prosecutor about eye witness statements in court.

An article in Canadian Psychology Vol. 42(2), May 2001, p. 92-100 states that "Case studies, and more recently DNA testing in the US, have shown that mistaken eyewitness identification is responsible for more wrongful convictions than all other causes combined."

And yet people will continue to pass on gossip and heresay, based on something they insisted they saw "with their own eyes" -- and they were wrong.

"Have you heard...?" "Everyone is talking about..." "But I saw it..."

If you ever find yourself in this shark feeding frenzy situation, stop and take a deep breath. Think with your intelligence, rather than with your emotions. Don't allow yourself to be caught up in the mêlée. Usually there are repercussions, and in the long term they are very seldom in the favor of the those who are perpetrating the gossip.


Lover of Life said...

I couldn't agree with you more. So many people are just unconscious.

Linda S. Socha said...

This is so true Jo. I have seen the results of this first hand. The really sad thing in addition to the relevant points you make is that the damage often cannot be easily undone even when gossip is proven wrong

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I once repeated a "fact" that had been shared with me and ended up damaging someone's reputation and ending a friendship. Apologies have no impact in such situations and the damage cannot always be undone. I am a good secret keeper now. It is not worth it.........

Elise said...

Well said!

pilgrimchick said...

I love the painting. If only people were so practical...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

That is some very wise counsel. I believe gossip is considered one of the worst kinds of wrong action in Buddhism, for a very good reason.

It does remind me of a funny story, though, in which a man returns home unexpectedly and finds his wife in bed with another man.

He is understandably upset, and his wife denies everything. Finally, she tells him, sobbing, "If you really loved me, you would believe what I tell you and not what you see with your own eyes."

Lorna said...

I enjoy fun gossip but am not ok with cruel gossip, but face it, gossip is the stuff of weak people who are afraid to confront directly.

That is why men gossip less than women do. Not because they are superior human beings but because they have more socially acceptable way of expressing their disagreement or outrage, including duking it out.

There's all kinds of gossip, but by definition it is hushed, not public, is fueled by innuendo rather than direct reportage (which isn't always accurate).

There's even gossiping by blog these day. It's everywhere.

I find that I don't have to put up with as much gossip now as I used to, because I am retired, Jo, and I bet that when you are freer to select with whom you hang out, there will be a lot less of it in your life.

The workplace tends to be a hotbed of gossip, and a lot of it is for professional gain.


Jo said...

LoverOfLife, what a great word -- unconscious. That describes it perfectly.

Linda, oh, I agree completely. My friend Russell says, "You can't unring a bell." Once it has been said ... it has been said, and the damage done.

Kathy, "Apologies have no impact in such situations and the damage cannot always be undone." Oh, yes. I am keeping some secrets that could damage people, but I would never betray them.

Elise, thank you. :-)

Pilgrimchick, isn't it a great painting? I love it too.

Hearts, *chuckle* Love it! And yes, Christianity has a few things to say about gossip as well. It's not nice.

Lorna, "Gossip is the stuff of weak people who are afraid to confront directly." Very well said! And yes, gossip can exist everywhere you get a group of people together. You should hear the gossip in the building where I live. I avoid all of it!

Lorna said...


I have one gossip story which makes me feel really, really good. Years ago, in my high school days, I had a friend “Millie,” who had a slightly younger sister. Both sisters were intelligent, good people. Neither one of them had trouble attracting young men.

The younger sister, “Jeannie,” had been going with a boy for a while. She was in love with him and I had met him so I knew what he looked like.

One day I was in a car as a passenger and passed the local abortion clinic (in Los Angeles near Olympic and San Vicente). (No, they did not call it an abortion clinic but that is what it was.)

Jeannie's boyfriend was walking with a girl up the walkway towards the door of the abortion clinic. That surprised me because the girl was not Jeannie.
I stared as the car that I was in was thankfully going slowly, so I was able to get a good look. The boy, Jeannie's boyfriend (whose name I cannot recall), well, HE SAW ME LOOKING AT HIM WITH BIG ROUND EYES.

Witnessing that scene bothered me to no end because I was then in the situation of having to decide whether or not I would tell Jeannie.

You know what? Although if I had been Jeannie, I would have wanted to be told, I did not tell her. For whatever reasons I had, I did not tell her. Maybe I did not want to be the one to have to tell her. Maybe I figured she would find out sooner or later. Maybe maybe maybe.

Then I remember being with the sisters Millie and Jeannie somewhere at school or somewhere. I remember that there was a lot of grass around us. I remember Jeannie telling us (me, Millie, and Jeannie's other friend “Janna”) that her boyfriend was SO KIND AND THOUGHTFUL TO LEAVE HER ALONE DURING FINAL EXAMS SO THAT SHE COULD STUDY.

I remember thinking to myself, Yah, so he can be with another girl! But I said nothing.

Then Jeannie repeated what she said and repeated how considerate he was.

By that time I was scowling to myself but trying to keep my discomfort private.

Finally Jeannie told me that her boyfriend had been taking a mutual friend, Miss X, to that clinic as a friend to help her. Jeannie knew about it all that time and was trying to bait me into gossiping about her boyfriend.

So my reactions, even today, are two: (1) I feel good that I did not pass along the gossip (altho I hope to God I am told if that happens to me), and (2) I am really ticked off at Jeannie for TRYING TO TRAP ME INTO GOSSIPING, AND THEN INNOCENTLY, SO INNOCENTLY SHOWING ME UP AS A VICIOUS GOSSIP WHO WAS WRONG!

As it is, she had to bait me and bait me, and then she had to finally tell me so that I would not be in possession of what I might consider confidential gossip.

I cannot stand the viciousness of some girls.

Hey, I think I will blog about gossiping in my blog.

~~ Lorna / Southern California Woman

Vancouver, Canada said...

Beautiful Painting!

Alissa said...

I think work gossip is the worst, and sometimes it is hard to avoid it. That's one reason I'm glad I no longer have a job where I have to go into the office every day. I used to eat my lunch out in my car just to avoid the gossipy breakroom - for the record there were some male gossips at my last place of business, in fact, some of them were worse than the women.

Paula Slade said...

There's an old Jewish saying, "What you don't see with your eyes, don't witness with your mouth." And, by the way - the game "telephone" is what we used to play as kids, and it was great fun - particularly when the last person had to tell what the first person had said.

Leslie: said...

My mother used to say, "Never believe anything you hear and only half of what you see with your own eyes."

jackc50 said...

thanks for dropping by, i will give mia a kiss. i must be in vancouver too because it is grey, wet and most unsummer like here. we might be neighbors....jack c

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...

Gossips are como dynamites in a fortress!

Country Girl said...

I find myself, every now and then, doing this same thing. And I stop myself and the conversation. How do we know what's true?

K said...

"Think with your intelligence, rather than with your emotions"
I love that statement - so true!!!
And pretty hard to practice

Marguerite said...

I totally agree with you, Jo. I used to work with 45 women a week at 9 different locations. (5 at each) It was a gossip factory, but since I never stayed in one place too long, I was able to escape most of it. "A rolling stone gathers no moss".

Mariana Soffer said...

Humans are questionable, and very, the mind plays tricks on us all the time, you can listen to ted talk by dan aielly
and see some about this here:

Brenda said...

Gossip is a pet peeve of mine. Always has been. Always will be. I think it is really unfair to talk about people unkindly behind their back. We all slip up once in a while I think, but I have to bite my tongue when I hear people say cruel things about others. It is one thing for young people to do this, maybe they haven't learned yet how hurtful it can be. It is another coming from adults that should know better. I try to live by the golden rule. I know I don't like it when others talk unkindly about me so I try not to talk unkindly about any one else.
PS...I am not a saint..I just sound like one. Ha...

sue said...

I have always had an inner voice that told me that gossip was wrong, although there were times I found myself doing it.

I had myself convinced that gossip in a group was worse that between just two. Now I think I was wrong.

When I told a friend that gossip was wrong she was shocked and said she was going home to look it up.

Once I read on the internet that gossip is healthy. I would never buy that.

pranksygang said...

this is a very dangerous play!! people just create stories to have fun but later innocent people become victim! even i was a victim of gossip which affected me later. why do people do such stupid things! Its Disgusting !

PhilipH said...

I don't think it's necessarily true that women gossip much more than men. It's hard to prove one way or t'other, but over the years I've heard plenty of gossip between men, especially in a pub or club etc.

I guess the "Chinese whispers" game says it all. What starts out as one message ends up expanded or altered and totally different.

It's a pity that more folk don't follow the axiom: we've got two ears and only one tongue. Listen twice as much as you would speak.

Love, Phil

Charles Gramlich said...

Sometimes I don't understand the concept of "good" people, since those who by general concensus are good often do hurtful and hateful things. Like this kind of gossip.

Anonymous said...

Great post, also some great comments. This is a post teenage girls should read, they sometimes use gossip like a weapon. Maybe gossip is just a sign of immaturity. It is easy to forget how damaging it can be, a good reminder.

Deedee said...

I agree whole-heartedly, Jo. I remember this sort of thing from back in high school - it was terrible and I am sure it scarred people for life.

Anonymous said...