|Release from Deception by Francesco Queirolo|
sugar and spite,
sugar and spite,
Right is wronged
and black cast white
and black cast white
aspersions and slights,
aspersions and slights,
Devouring her prey
in perfidious bites
in perfidious bites
Women gossip. Even men gossip, though they pretend they’re newscasters passing on information and facts. This is how my parents separate men’s gossip from women’s gossip but basically, people talk. And that IS a fact. People are interested in what other folks are doing, comparing themselves to one another. Social research even suggests that gossip is healthy and natural, that it is a means to establishing rights and wrongs for communal living. Behavior that has negative impact on a community’s safety is outed and spouted from one whisperer to the next.
Gossip is a way to create closeness between friends as two people intimate to one another that they share similar perceptions (and limits on unacceptable behavior). “Oh by the way, what do you think of so-and-so? Well, I'm glad you said that 'cuz I can't stand people who talk all the time either!”
Gossip teaches us as much about what not to do as what we should do. When someone is gossiped about, they become a living example of mistakes we need to avoid if we’re going to fit in. We learn the rules of community, we form alliances through intimate discussions about people who don’t play by the rules, or think they make up rules for everyone else. Gossip can also reveal players, users, hypocrites, cheaters and liars. This way, everyone knows to steer clear, or at least remain cautious around people who have proven themselves untrustworthy 'cuz they steal your money and your heart. If you’re foolish enough to dismiss community gossip because you know that person better than everyone else and gee, they’d never take advantage of you like they did all those ‘other folks’, the next bout of gossip in the coffee shop will be about your disregard for your social warnings.
In a way, gossip can be a means to self-moderation and healthier integration with people who share similar values and restraints. Knowing people will gossip about your behavior may moderate impulses---keeping your ego in check and increasing pro-social behavior. Still, most people hesitate saying anything bad about another person because we know “people in glass houses ought never throw stones.” Which reminds me of a very strange joke click here, but I won’t interrupt my train of thought in the retelling right now; otherwise, we’ll all get lost on the point, including myself. Which also reminds me how hard it is to keep my mind focused now that I’m over fifty which is neither here nor there really though it came to mind as a way to explain how a woman can start typing and forget what she was typing about by the time she’s writing the third paragraph.
O yes. This is my point: Gossip may reduce anxiety and stress when we ask another person if they had a similar experience with So-and-So. Research tells us that we gossip about 65% of the time, what we usually call chit-chat. That’s a lot of gossiping going on and everybody does it though rare it is for someone to admit enjoying a bit of tattling now and then! Gossip might also be validating to someone who is being hurt or bullied. Talking about, breaking the silence, and telling on someone can reassure us that our perceptions aren’t inaccurate because other folks have the same perception based on similar experiences with this person. Gossip, in other words, has pro-social value. Inclusive value. Ways to prevent the isolation people feel when a bully-type person manipulates, uses, abuses and isolates their prey (who more than likely, feels bad about saying anything bad…even when it’s true.)
Gossip may be useful, even instructive;
but sharing gossip is not the same thing as spreading rumors
Rumor does not have a pro-social value. At least in my definition. Rumor is intentionally malicious and socially destructive; both for the rumormonger and the listener. Critical think is bypassed; emotional reasoning prevails. Facts are dismissed when the juice of the rumor is emotionally satisfying, especially when it targets someone who for all intents and purposes, is a very good person. There’s nothing quite as delicious as destroying someone’s character if they threaten our sense of self.
“Well, here’s a little rumor I heard about that uppity woman, though I don’t have any proof. But where a rumor is, there’s sure to be truth,” people whisper to one another, forming an alliance with the very worst parts of themselves. The more uncertainty there is in our lives and the more insecure we feel, the more likely rumors will spread like wildfire. Cyberspace is the perfect place for malicious people to play Whisper Down the Lane Games.
Bystanders and Onlookers
It’s awful to admit but there’s probably not anyone on this earth who hasn’t used rumor as a means to feel superior at some low point in their lives. In fact, the worse you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to tear other people down in order to feel better! Sometimes feeling better about ourselves means destroying another person so there’s nothing left to envy, and then whomever we perceived as superior to us, no longer is.
Spreading rumors is the ugly result of comparing ourselves to others and coming up short.
Joining the rumor mill is such a delicious self-deception that we go to amazing lengths defending our complicity. When rumor replaces critical think, we participate in mendacity ever bit as much as the originator of the rumor. We embrace envy with open arms especially when we’re insecure. When there is nothing left to envy because we have shredded someone’s character, we falsely empower ourselves in the pleasure of destruction.
Since people gossip as part of our social natures, it’s important to recognize the tempting trap of empowering ourselves by illegitimately dis-empowering others.
Rumormongers depend on listeners to do their dirty work for them. They start the lie, they tell it to people they know will listen and those listeners pass it on, all in the guise of innocent gossip. What's important to know is that the rumormonger:
1-exploits listeners' emotions and sentiments
2-justifies suppressed hatreds, fears or desires
3-cannot verify allegations
4-is unwilling to confront the 'target' of the rumor
5-tells a plausible story that is easy to remember
6-keeps the rumor simple by omitting important facts
When we listen to rumormongers, the alliance is other-and-self destructive. Why? Because with the exception of pathological personalities, most people reproach themselves afterwards. For them, spreading malicious rumors is ego-dystonic. In other words, lying contradicts their values, morals, and internalized principles, so they feel lousy about themselves and their self-esteem takes a nosedive. For the originator of a malicious rumor however, they do not feel bad about their behavior. They are ego-syntonic with lying, destruction, even deriving sadistic pleasure from destroying a good person’s character.
A smear campaign is an attempt to malign someone’s character, credibility and reputation based on lies, half-truths and malicious rumors. Cluster B personality-types distort facts with twisted conclusions, perceiving themselves as victims, seduce listeners with faked intimacy by sharing secrets. AND, they are highly persuasive. So persuasive in fact that they convince both themselves and others that their rumor is true.
What has fascinated me about Smear Campaigns is people’s willingness to suspend disbelief. People silence their conscience and their intuition if the rumor is sufficiently tantalizing. Intuition takes a back seat when ego empowers itself through the spreading of lies. So an offensive tactic of the narcissist is to use smear campaigns to malign, discredit, and reduce targets to inferior beings---to strip them of power by derogating their character. This tactic also divides and conquers by pitting people against a supposed ‘foe’. Targets are stuck between a rock and a hard place, right where narcissists like them to be: Damned if they defend themselves and damned if they don't.
This process is never accomplished by a single person, though. Smear Campaigns require a mob to finish the job the rumormonger started and just like chickens in a coop, one hen is singled out and the others peck her to death. The originator, who selected the target for destruction, can sit back and enjoy the show while other hens commit an atrocity.
What Do We Do?
When this happened to me, I was stunned. It didn’t make sense and I defended myself, which as we all know, makes a person look guilty. The advice we’re told is that you don’t have to defend yourself if you aren’t guilty so that means anyone who argues against rumor must have something to cover up. Saying someone ‘doth protest too much’ is a silly folk wisdom and one that is pretty much unbelievable to me but whether people have drawn silly conclusions or not, it’s what they think and therefore important to know.
What stunned me most of all was that people were willing to believe rumors, despite what they’d witnessed with their own eyes. Or believe I was this or that and the other because so-and-so had told them so. I was hurt and sad and defenseless. Nothing like this had ever happened and I had no clue how to get through it without giving up on cyberspace and crawling back to my kitchen which of course, is what the rumormonger had intended all along. This is what I finally concluded and it pains me to write it even now:
People believe what they WANT to believe. Even friends and family pretty much believe what they WANT to believe and you can’t convince them otherwise if they want to believe you are as awful as someone told them you were.
I finally learned that nasty folks enjoy destroying other people’s reputations and undermining their credibility. The better someone's reputation may be, the more amusing the tumble from grace. In the pathological person’s mind, “No Good Deed goes Unpunished” and if you don’t believe me, just watch what happens when you crawl out of the proverbial crab barrel and try to be as good as you really are.
What do we do if we're the target audience...or the target?
A lot of people say: “Don’t dignify a rumor with a response.” This bit of folk wisdom is bad advice because an undisputed rumor flourishes unabated. In a group situation, most people react by withdrawing, pretending they aren’t listening, or silencing themselves. Say something. Ask questions. You might even say, “Stop. I will not listen to your toxic bullshite.” (It’s doubtful most of us will take that stance, but be aware that as long as you say nothing, you are assumed to be in agreement. ) Narcissists are adept at twisting the situation, which means you are complicit because you said nothing. You may even discover afterwards that the narcissist's mean and nasty comments were attributed to you. And who will people believe then? Your defensive self---or the persuasive narcissist?
Rumor mongers dislike confrontation which is why they're reluctant to approach the ‘target’ directly. Tell the rumor-monger you are a peacemaker and you love keeping friends together, not apart. Tell her you’re willing to be the mediator and open a new dialog. Start texting the target while the rumor-monger gulps for air.
Ask for facts, not interpretation. Assess the facts and use critical thinking, not emotional justification.
Ask the rumor monger: “When I am not here, do you disparage me?" Whether you are conscious of that thought or not, it IS in the back of your mind! This is how people are divided against each other as rumors drive wedges between groups, neighborhoods, workplaces, and even families.
Ask the rumor-monger: "Why do you want to believe that?"
Don’t protect the rumor-monger’s anonymity. This is not ‘affiliation' with one another, it’s akin to trauma bonding. Why? Because it’s painful admitting our cowardice or our complicity. And once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. You find yourself caught in a sticky web having strung a few gossamer strings yourself. As the theory of cognitive dissonance suggests: human beings are adept at self-deception, justifying our behavior as right, even when we’re wrong. Better to face the situation immediately than to stay awake all night because your conscience won't let you sleep. When you wake up at three-in-the-morning feeling chagrined, hold on to your sheepish feelings and promise to do better. Make sure you don't lie to yourself to avoid feeling guilty.
The key to restoring self-worth is taking responsibility for our mistakes and changing our behavior. No one is immune to tearing someone down to build him or herself up occasionally, so we need to be wise about Smear Campaigns and avoid passing the malice forward. Be the best person you can be without tearing people down to inflate your self-esteem. Ask yourself when you're reflecting on a rumor: "Why do I ‘Want’ to believe this?" and then hang on to your self-worth when the answers blow holes in your defenses.
Introduction by Sally Wert and Peter Salovey
A Social Comparison Account of Gossip by Sarah R. Wert and Peter Salovey
Research on Gossip: Taxonomy, Methods, and Future Directions by Eric Foster
Rumor and Gossip by Ralph Rosnow and Eric Foster