What I’ve Learned about the Gossip Mill…

The gossip mill is fueled by insecurities, misinformation, and boredom: What happens when we don’t like something about ourselves? We find someone else who (we perceive) is worse than us/uglier than us/dumber than us and we talk about them to deflect the attention away from ourselves. What happens when we have gaps in information concerning a subject or a situation? We speculate and find ways to fill in the information in order to fill in that schema–“well, if she wasn’t at dinner, then she MUST have been at his house”. Sometimes, we have to excuse people because they know not what they do–sometimes I think our brains are wired in these kinds of ways that of course we would want to fill in missing information so that we do not have cognitive gaps and to make sense of the world, of course we would want to keep our brains entertained (because we are very smart, after all!) Of course, throwing someone else under the bus to fuel the gossip mill is definitely not the right thing to do, but then again, we are humans and we are bound to make mistakes–this isn’t to say that participating in the gossip mill is ‘excusable’ because it is a human action–it just means to say that we are destined to fall into it’s turmoils and its circulations.

The gossip mill rarely ever actually circles back to you: I can think of many instances in my life where something happens and my number one fear is that, if it stirs around in the gossip mill, I won’t know how to address it if/when someone approaches me about it. The fear is not whether or not people know about the information, or what people are saying about the information, or who the information has reached, but rather how I will react when approached about it–will I cry? will I be awkward? will I give away too much information? will I embarrass myself and add more fuel to the gossip mill? But, in all the times something has most likely stirred about me in the gossip mill, I think I’ve been approached about it ZERO times. No one ever said, “Oh, rumor on the street is that you did this”, or, “So and so said that this happened to you”, or, “I heard that you said….is that true?” That is because that is part of the ‘fun’ of the gossip mill–to keep things secret. When things leave the gossip mill and land on the ear of the person, the fun is all gone, because now we can no longer speculate and wonder and make things up. That means that we now have access to finding out the real Truth, and that takes all of the fun out of the gossip mill. If someone were to approach you, then they would have to admit they were part of the gossip mill and no one ever actually wants to admit that they contributed or that they were part of the conversations, because then they would have to admit some other uncomfortable things as well.

The gossip mill is a human construction: The gossip mill is a metaphor–a concrete object to represent an abstract idea. Except in this case, there is actually no concrete object that actually exists. There is no physical compactor that I could physically squash my hand inside, there is no conveyor belt that could physically push me off my feet, there is no physical switch that I could accidentally bump into and receive an electrical shock. The gossip mill is an invisible forcefield that people made up. Because it is unseen, not tangible, mysterious, it causes fear because we are unsure where it is lurking, when it will creep up, or what kind of potential it might incur. But, because it is a human construction, it does not actually exist, which means that the only form of harm it can do to oneself is really metaphorical as well. Humans created it because we are fallen creatures—whether consciously or unconsciously, we strive for competition and power, and participating in the gossip mill gives us opportunities to be in a power position. We hold power in two ways: we have access to the information and are the storehouse for the knowledge, so if people want to be in on the gossip mill, they have to submit themselves to us to hear the information, and we hold power over whoever the information regards, because we put ourselves in superior position. But, that’s really all it is—something humans made up, and at the end of the day, while there may be some mental or emotional bruising from being whisked in the grinder, we will not suffer any real physical scars from being in it.

The gossip mill is not personally selective: The gossip mill does not pick YOU personally to pick on. The gossip mill doesn’t actually care WHO it involved, as long as there is SOMEONE that it can stir in and some kind of ‘scandalous’ situation it can revolve around. So when I find myself as a potential product of the gossip mill (I don’t actually really know for sure because no one ever tells me if I’m in it or out of it), I can’t really take it personally. It has nothing to do with how particularly beautiful, how skillful, how smart I am, and has everything to do with the fact that the gossip mill just needs a pawn, and it just happened to land on me for the time being.

The gossip mill is continuous: I’ve heard 12 year olds gossip, I’ve heard 28 year olds gossip, I’ve heard my great grandmother who is now 103 gossip. I’m pretty sure the gossip mill never shuts down. Fortunately/unfortunately, there are 6 billion plus people in the world, so lots of things to gossip about. What this means for me is that I will have ample opportunities to find myself as part of the gossip mill. I can control many things in my life–the way I treat people, the way I respond to a situation, the kind of clothes I put on, the amount of times I shower, etc.–but I can’t necessarily control when I’m thrown into the gossip mill, who picks up the information, how long I’ll float around in there. And for that reason, I think I’ll just not care about it because (a) inevitably I will find myself in there again and (b) there’s nothing I can really do about being in there, so I should focus my energies on things I can control (like how much plastic I use in a day or how much whipped cream I put on my dessert).

The gossip mill starts churning with some kind of fragment of truth: Yes, it is true that the gossip mill elaborates on things, and there is much exaggeration and false statements in it. But, the nugget that begins the gossip mill stems from some kind of fragment of truth. Because, if there is no foundation for the gossip mill to speculate about, the information is not going to get too far because no one will believe it. Think about the most Christian, churchy, Bible beater girl you knew in high school who was known to cart abandoned puppies off the road, bake homemade Rice Krispie treats for all of her classmates, and always followed the rules—didn’t even go over the speed limit. If someone started a rumor that she was out on the weekends, causing a raucous and getting into trouble, that rumor likely will not get too far, because people know her reputation, and the rumor is not rooted in truth. Now, say someone uncovered a picture of this girl doing these things on the weekends—now there is a fragment of truth for people to stand on and to speculate about.

This is great news for me, because that means I have slight control of what gets into the gossip mill. Of course, sometimes we do tell someone a piece of information that we think we can trust, and we learn we actually cannot trust them, but for the most part, if there is something I don’t want to get out in the gossip mill, then I can kind of control it by just not telling anyone, by making sure no pictures are taken, by keeping my reactions blasé and status quo.

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