I was reading an article recently that was written by a woman that grew up in this small town, moved away for school and then moved back. She was waxing poetic about the people in the community and how they were the reasons to come “home”. There was this strong connection and love for your family and childhood friends that lived there that was so important. Being a part of the small community was the best because they were united and always had your back…
… um, didn’t I just listen to you trash your best friend and her family over lunch? And weren’t you the one also telling me those nasty stories about your boss and how much the town disliked her and her family?
Where exactly is the love and connection and support there?
I’m not feeling it.
You see, that’s what no one ever talks about. There are many small town folks that thrive on malicious gossip about each other. It’s just what they do and they see nothing wrong with the harmful and untrue lies they spread about their friends and neighbors. It’s a way of living they grew up with, like Snuffy Smith’s wife, Louisa, over the backyard fence chewing the fat with their neighbor. It’s how the “news” was shared long before there were newspapers, televisions and community forums, except this would be the news whispered behind your back.
Even though they all talk about each other, it never seems to affect the way they interact. I don’t know if it’s just ignorance that tawdry rumors are being shared, or maybe they don’t know what’s being said, though I can’t imagine they wouldn’t know. It didn’t take me that long to hear the rumors being spread around about me, mainly because the person I was hanging around with at the time truly relished and lived her entire waking life gossiping about people. She gossiped at work and she gossiped at home. She loved it!
So how does everyone continue to walk around like everything is fine, when it seems like the whole town has turned against you?
I keep thinking of the Eleanor Roosevelt saying:
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
She also said this:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
No one ever talks about this affliction with small towns. Everyone wants to believe the hype that it’s so idyllic when the reality is that if you don’t know the right people or wear the same clothes or do the same things as almost everyone else, you’re going to be the subject of their most salacious conversations where they rip you to total shreds simply because you’re different, you’re not a native or you scare them.
I honestly don’t think the location or the town has anything to do with the horrific whispers anymore. I think it’s some of the people and how they choose to make themselves feel better about who they are, their own insecurities and lack of mature and well rounded growth. I have never met snottier people than I have here. People that have less education, are in debt up to their eyeballs and have never traveled farther than the Virginia border, but they will look down their nose at others and act like those people belong in a leper colony and not here on their tiny slice of paradise. I usually walk away blinking my eyes several times in order to clear away the fog they produce from their cold shoulder shunning and prejudices.
That’s not to say that everyone I meet has been akin to a monster, because I actually know some great folks that live here. I often wonder how they maintain this tenacious grip, upholding decency and decorum above all else, when gossip and intrigue are the preferred poison of many of their friends here. How do they remain completely unscathed and beautiful while others are beaten down because they can’t resist hearing the latest scuttlebutt and then get bruised and bloodied because they simply don’t have the spine to pick a side? Hey! That’s what you get for being two-faced!
I do not have a small town attitude. I’m not interested in speaking badly about my neighbor. I’m more interested in lifting her up. My neighbor happens to be mighty awesome all on her own, just so you know.
My arms have always been opened wide and receiving with love and understanding, but that’s all changing for me now. It’s kind of sad for me to feel this way, but in order to protect myself from being just as damaged as some of the folks I run into, I’m going to have to toughen up a bit. I guess that’s where making personal boundaries and sticking to them will be a blessing in disguise.
I am going to open this can of worms today. I’ll be that person that talks about the thing that no one ever wants to talk about and hopefully the people that need to hear it most, will be listening and by that I mean, people suffering at the hands of the town gossip.
Don’t think for a minute that the circle surrounding the gossiper is safe from being maligned, because they’re not. In fact, they are more susceptible to being the target than an outsider would be, simply because of their close proximity. I tell people all the time not to feel so special because the minute they walk out the door, they become the person that’s being talked about. So getting on their “good side” is an urban myth and I’m here to finally tell you that a person like this does not have a “good side” to get on.
I’ve lived here for eight years and I can still recall the joy and elation I felt crossing that bridge to come back here after living so far away in Texas for so many years. I had been riding in a cellular dead zone for the last hour and right in the middle of that mile long bridge, that was the first of many bridges to cross on my way to those outer lying islands, I received a text message from my husband who was here waiting for me to arrive, “Welcome Home!” it read and I remember shedding a few tears of happiness because I felt like I really was coming home.
That feeling quickly came to a halt when I started hearing the gossip about me that was being shared, some of it by my own “family”, most of it was just mean and hateful and all of it was untrue. So how would you continue to make a home for yourself in a small town that gets off on trying to make you feel miserable?
- Learn how to change the subject. If someone is sharing a story about being hurt by others, I’m going to listen, but if someone is just sharing gossip that’s meant to be hurtful, I’m going to change the subject to talk about something else, not someone else.
- Stop judging yourself based on what others are gossiping about. You know who you are and that should give you the strength to rise above their petty bullshit. If you are doubting yourself or feeling anxiety about what’s happening, find a good counselor and settle in for some healthy and revealing chats about yourself.
- Confronting the gossiper is sometimes a good idea, but make no mistakes here. A gossiper is a bully and bullies are fearful people that do not do well when confronted. They tend to wait until you walk away again and then they strike out with even more vengeance. Pick your battles wisely and know who you’re approaching by watching how others have handled them. If for some reason you make this mistake, prepare yourself for the smear campaign they will surely wage.
- Never be afraid to be in the presence of the Town Crier. You’ll quickly realize they are more afraid of you than you are of them. Gossipers operate from a place of fear.
- When you realize the person you’re friendly with is nothing more than a malicious gossip, walk away quietly. You will avoid years of drama if you just keep your distance from this person. No matter how much fun you think they are now, they will soon be your worst nightmare.
- Don’t make assumptions about anyone based on someone else’s gossip you might have listened to. A gossiper’s intentions are never good.
- Don’t gossip.
- Do show respect for the folks that have lived here their whole lives, even if they don’t show any respect for you or anyone else. Respect can also be shown by keeping your distance and being cordial when it’s required.
- Don’t keep secrets. You can maintain your privacy, but secrets are never a good thing to nurture. You are only as sick as the secrets you keep so if someone asks you to keep their secrets, suggest they tell a counselor or their clergy instead of you. That keeps you completely out of harm’s way.
- Don’t go looking for acceptance. I have always been a very generous person with my time, my spirit and love of life and also with whatever I might own that someone else could benefit from having. I do not give out anything that has strings attached or expectations and I certainly am not looking for acceptance. I give because it makes me feel good. If you are giving in hopes that your friends will like you better, then do yourself a huge favor and find better friends than this. Friends don’t care if you can give them anything, they love and accept you because you’re you.
- Don’t listen to gossip. Someone was telling me gossip about me once and when I changed the subject because I didn’t want to hear it she said, “Well, I’m sure people come up to you and say nasty stuff about me all the time.” I told her that they did not and if they did I would tell them I didn’t want to hear it. She was a bit shocked. I’m not friends with her anymore.
The best way to survive life in a small town is perhaps to not live in one, but if you find yourself here on purpose, then enjoy the trappings that come with life on a sandbar. Learn to enjoy your surroundings and take part in activities and events that serve your soul and your heart, rather than those that serve to annoy. The good folks will eventually come out of the woodwork when they realize your vibration is a good one. Just keep living your life in those good and lovely ways that have always served you well and life in a small town can be easy street if you let it be.
This is Madeline Laughs and I think I’m going for a nice walk on the beach to soak up some sun and search for a few nice shells. I’ll see you for another beautiful sunset later this afternoon.