I got a call this weekend from someone that used to date one of my best friends. They broke up when she found out he had been cheating on her with another one of her friends for months. Oh the drama we had in our 20’s!!! He was asking me to side with him in an argument he was having with someone else. He claimed they were “crazy” and a liar.
First of all, the minute the word “crazy” comes out of someone’s mouth to describe another human being, I stop listening.
Secondly, and THE most IMPORTANT detail of all! This is someone that got caught cheating on my friend and had lied to her for months before getting caught.
Knowing me, what do you think I said to him?
My grandfather had a saying he liked to tell me about every time I came home from school, upset about some trifling mean gossip one of my friends had started spreading on the playground about me. He would take the pipe out of his mouth and spread his fingers in the air and proclaim, “The more you stir shit, the more it stinks. You can stir it all day long if you want to, but shit is never going to smell any better. The best thing you can do, is to not stir the shit. Just walk away from it.”
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that once someone has established themselves as a liar, that they are always a liar. Believe it or not, people are generally inclined to be honest. Unless they have some kind of mental disorder, lying does not readily occur to the general population. I see this everyday in my work.
I ask a lot of questions throughout the course of a study. People sometimes hesitate to answer certain questions and express reservation, “I don’t know if I want to tell you that.” What they do not stop to consider is that they can tell me anything they please, I won’t know the difference. Besides, research of human subjects is completely voluntary and they have to right to refuse to answer any question that makes them uncomfortable. I am duty bound to inform them of those rights.
And therein lies the beast that we call gossip. People can tell you anything they please, whether it’s the truth, or not.
There are times when a study subject doesn’t understand the meaning of a question I ask them. I could be looking for a particular answer and people are more than willing to please and give the answer I am looking for, rather than what they truly think or feel about the question. Since I am not interested in skewing my data for the sake of getting what I’m looking for versus the actual truth, I have a pat response for people willing to please. I re-read the question and wait for their response. If they are still unwilling to give an answer without an explanation from me, I tell them, “It means whatever you think it means to you.” or “Whatever you think it means is fine. Just do your best.” This takes any of my personal slant off the table for the respondent.
When you are honest with people from the beginning, your word can be hard to doubt, however it is not up to you to demand that people believe you. They have to figure that out on their own.
In the case of my friend, if this were someone I was in constant contact with and felt I could trust, I might have been inclined to listen to him. Sadly, he is someone on the periphery of my life and not someone I speak with too often. We were never close friends and after he treated someone I dearly loved in such a shabby manner, you can imagine that he wasn’t high on my list of great people anyway. A phone call simply to plead his case, when he knows absolutely nothing about my life today, was simply a standard narcissistic smear campaign.
Years ago I wouldn’t have recognized this for myself.
Years ago I might have participated in the drama.
But not today.
He wasn’t asking for my advice, even though he referenced the fact that I might know how to guide him since this seemed to be something I write about on a regular basis. He was only interested in smearing the other person, someone who is also on the periphery of my life now, and acquiring my acquiescence, approval and knowledge of how he could further inflict pain on someone I barely even know. That is not the actions of someone interested in resolving anything.
I told him to leave it alone. To stop making phone calls and/or sending messages to people. I told him to look within or to make other friends and to pretend like what this other person might have or might not have done or said, was simply none of his business. If it gets brought up to him, he’s free to tell his side of the story, but to leave it at that. Tell your side, but don’t ask people to join in with some kind of witch hunt crusade bullshit.
Anyone digging in dirt always ends up being the dirtiest person of all.
You can’t control what other people do or say. You just can’t. You can control yourself though and if you know who you are and have self respect, then you’ve already won that fight. Your real friends won’t care what other people are saying about you and the people that do fall in line with the gossip whore weren’t your friends to begin with. So, what have you really lost?
Will I tell my other friend what he’s up to?
If he was doing or saying something I felt was extremely harmful to my other friend, something that could cause that person to lose their job, or have their children taken from them, or be physically harmed in any way, then yes I would tell that person. I would also let him know that I was telling so there’s no question of where the information came from and I’d tell him that I would be disclosing how I knew about it.
But since this was total bullshit gossip then, probably not. What purpose will that serve? It won’t make me a good friend to perpetuate the gossip. Nope, I already proved my friendship with the advice I shared with him to walk away from the drama he was starting. It’s up to him now to follow through. Besides if my other friend does approach me, I will give them the same advice.
Do you want to know who you can freely gossip with and not fear being bad? Your spouse, or maybe your mom. Those are the only two people you can share stuff like this with and not fear repercussions or having what you’ve told them repeated to anyone else with malicious intent. Knowing how slim your window is for sharing, how does it make the act of gossiping with harm in mind sound to you now?
Don’t fall for idle gossip. It’s the activity of people so bored and dissatisfied with their own lives that they have to pick apart someone else’s life in order to feel better about being bad. No matter what happens in your life, there are always going to be people that like drama and enjoy stirring the pot of shit.
If you don’t know this already, stirring a pot of shit smells awful and the smell will cling to you afterwards.