So sorry to hear that

6-25 Page 4A.inddWhat’s the difference between gossip and news? Gossip is information about other people’s personal affairs which usually proves to be untrue and is often told with malicious intent.

There must be something about gossip that people become addicted to. Otherwise, there would be no explanation for the apparently unlimited appetite of the public for stories about other people’s tragedies and relationships.

How many times have you heard someone begin a conversation with the sentence, “I don’t know if this is true or not, but” and go from there to outrageous claims about another person’s life?

I’ll never forget hearing a malicious account of a funeral attended by an incurable gossip.

This gossip attended funerals as a recreational activity. It didn’t matter if she hadn’t seen the deceased in 25 years, she’d go to the funeral to observe and report.

She’d note the flower arrangements, the number, size and who sent them. She’d read the attached cards and estimate what each arrangement must have cost.

She’d see how many people she knew who attended and interrogate each person she cornered, grilling them for personal information about intimate matters.

Nothing was off-limits.

The story she told about this particular funeral flattered no one. A relative had died after an illness, and she measured his life and found it wanting. She enumerated his failings and mistakes, talked about his mother, whom she disliked with a passion, and commented on the appearance of his widow, who attended the funeral in a wheelchair.

“She had someone with her to roll her into the church”, the gossip reported with a disapproving snort. “She just did it to put on a show. She wanted to make sure she got all the attention,” said this kindly relative.

There is no safe response to this teller of tales, because a response is what the gossip is seeking. If the listener is surprised into making a negative comment, the gossip stores it up to repeat to someone who will be sure to be hurt by the remark. The experienced gossip knows how to bait the trap.

The story of the widow at the funeral in a wheelchair backfired. One week after the funeral of her husband the widow died. It turned out she had a terminal illness. This was one time the gossip went too far, because the widow died a little too soon after her husband’s funeral. People remembered.

It’s important to be very careful in any response made to a gossip. Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, because a gossip never means well. When gossip is taken as gospel, it can destroy reputations and lives.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” is always good. “I declare,” is another fairly safe comment. Or even, “How sad.”

It’s important to weigh words. Don’t forget that as soon as the gossip departs with information gleaned from a supposedly harmless conversation, no time will be wasted in circulating a highly distorted and false report about you and your life.

I don’t know why some people enjoy this activity, but the safest way to deal with them is to avoid contact.