Sideways Glances, Peculiar Memories, & a Leaky Valve: How to Determine if You are, in fact, being Churned in the Gossip Mill

October 3rd is the fateful day in which Cady Heron speaks to Regina George for the very first time, and thus, the plot of ‘Mean Girls’ takes off.

I define gossip as anytime I share information about another person when that person is not present to defend him or herself. Of course, most of the time, I may assume the information I’m about to share is public knowledge (Eric is going to propose to Kelly next month), and I think that, by sharing the information, I’m helping my friend (Rachel is three months pregnant after struggling with years of infertility), and I’m hoping to create a closer bond with the person in which I’m sharing the information with (Did you hear why Matt actually got fired?). But, in all actuality, all that I am doing is gossiping, because while the gossip grapevine lines–while invisible to the naked eye–run wide and deep, and sprout branches as every corner, every interaction, every corner, it is inevitably, it is not I, the messenger of the gossip grapevine, who cleans up the mess, but rather my friend to whom I’ve shared the information about. All that I did, in a flippant and passing conversation, was to say, “did you hear that ——?”, but for her, this transmission of information could have staggering consequences.

Because, maybe Eric has something special planned for Kelly, and if I spoil it, I’ve spoiled her surprise. Maybe Rachel did not want anyone to know about her infertility, because she did not want people to worry about her finances. Maybe Matt did not actually get fired, and by sharing the gossip, I’ve created skepticism in his current clients. In sharing other people’s information, not only did I open a new extension of this gossip grapevine–for someone else’s information to enter into the ravine, but I’ve taken away someone else’s agency–their power. I’ve robbed Eric of the months he spent putting together the perfect proposal, the effort Rachel put into disguising her secret, the moment of surprise and excitement she would have shared with others, Matt’s professional integrity.

Of course, my intentions remain innocent. I’m not meaning to expose Kelly’s proposal. I didn’t intend for everyone to find out about Rachel’s pregnancy before she could share on her own. I don’t even think about how talking about Matt could cost him valuable business. The idea that this constitutes as “gossip” is not even on my radar. Of course, this is how I justify my actions–it was all out of “kindness” and “compassionate” and “concern”–I’m just trying to “be a good friend”).

But, sharing other people’s information is not my information to share. The new rule that I follow: unless I’ve witnessed her sharing personal information to other people, or I’ve publicly seen the information shared on social media, I keep it to myself. Engagements and weddings (or divorces), houses and babies, jobs, vacations, relocations, disease, new puppies, adoptions, etc.

As Proverbs 16:28 states, “gossip separates close friends”.

‘Mean Girls’ is funny, but it is also uncomfortably relatable. In honor of National Mean Girls Day, I want to take a look at how you, the Cady Heron, can determine whether or not you, yourself, have been churned in The Gossip Mill:

You catch sideways glances from people:  As we know from Mean Girls, the Gossip Mill seems to have two people–the Queen Bee (your Regina George who is the star lite and controller of the Gossip Mill), and the regular colony bees (your Gretchen Wieners, who feeds information to the Gossip Mill).

The best way to determine who exactly, is the Regina, and who is the Gretchen of the Gossip Mill, is by paying attention to who is giving you those sideways glances. In a social setting, the Regina is, of course, too busy garnering attention and soaking up her own ego to collect evidence for the Gossip Mill; instead, she sends the Gretchen’s out. Likely, something has been said about you by the Queen Bee (Have you noticed that she makes a weird crunching gesture with her nose before she takes a bite of food?), and the Gretchen’s, on the outskirts of the Gossip Mill have to watch you closely in order to collect evidence–the determine whether these strange gestures you have are true or false–to bring back into the Gossip Mill, at its’ next feeding, to gain approval from the Regina’s.

People have strangely peculiar and vivid memories about you:  The memory works on strings of associations; the more associations you embed about a particular topic, concept, or situation, the better your memory retention of that particular topic, concept, or situations becomes. And, the more attention you place on a situation when it is occurring (See #1), the stronger memory you will have of it.

This, I think, is why Movie Buffs are so brilliant at recalling exact scenes from movies. When they watch a movie, they watch with intensity, because they know they will want to regurgitate the best line back, and they also know that whatever happens in this scene may provide important information for the next scene–so they watch every scene intently, and then they go afterwards to have a conversation about the movie. It is the attention to detail while watching the movie, and the conversation after the movie that solidifies the associations, and thus, strengthens the memory.

The same is true when you’ve been churned about the Gossip Mill; people remember the most insignificant details about what you’ve done–the LulaRoe pattern on your Carly dress, the parking spot by the stop sign that you pulled into, the time and place in which you had your last sneeze–details that you do not even remember about yourself–but details that are, in fact, remembered, because these details have been discussed ad nauseam, and therefore, have been committed to someone else’s memory.

The Leaky Value: When you have been churned in the Gossip Mill, people know, uncomfortably, too much information about you. Should my sister’s friend’s aunt know about the studded dog collar I just put on my dog? Should my co-worker’s husband’s co-worker know about the snafu I had yesterday at Bagel Stop? Should my friend’s brother’s fiance’s cousin know about how much money I spent on my boyfriend’s birthday present?

Of course, if you did pinpoint your Gretchen, and you bring up the fact to her that she seems to be churning the Gossip Mill, because the Gossip Mill must be a “secretive entity” in which “no one knows we are engaging upon”, (it takes all the fun out of it if people know you are doing it), then your Gretchen will say something like, “Oh no, I did not bring up the dog collar to Nicky!”, “Oh no, it was not I who told Martha about your stint at Bagel Stop!”, “I did not share anything with Vernon” (but, notice how, in these statements, Gretchen says she did not turn on the Gossip Mill, but she also never denied that she had no participation in it).

But, the fact that everyone seems to know lots of information about you–maybe information that you’ve only shared with one or two people–should be indication enough that there is a leak somewhere, and somewhere down the line, someone is spewing about you. When you find yourself being churned in the Gossip Mill, you have two choices: continue feeding it, giving it ammunition, or cut off it’s supply.

…or, like Cady Heron, just wish Regina gets hit by a bus.

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