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Neighborly Gossip: Dissed Respect or Just Down Right Un-Neighborly?

Many of you know I had the pleasure of making a film with Rich Allen and Mountain Lake PBS titled Dissed Respect: The Impact of Bullying. Since that time I find myself thinking a great deal about the different ways we bully one another. After talking to a couple of friends recently about neighbors and gossiping I found myself wondering "Is gossiping a form of bullying?" Now this is an intriguing question. When we get away from the target of our gossip and retell tales or fabricate stories about people that are not present, it isn't a heroic act. It is simply a juvenile antic that really should have been left behind in high school, perhaps even middle school. So, why do mature adults gossip? I inquire about this a bit later, but I do wonder if it could be because the one who is being gossiped about is different enough from the gossiper and the group she/he gossips with. Is the victim of gossip somehow the Other? I often wonder what would be a solution to ending someone’s gossiping, especially gossiping of a mean spirited kind. After all, there is gossip that is put out there that is really more inquisitive (like discussing with others if mutual friends may be getting married) than incredulous.

I toyed with the idea of what I would say or do to a hostile gossiper that might reside in my neighborhood and whom chose to take aim at me. I finally realized that what I could do is send a letter throughout my neighborhood with the ultimate intention of it being read by the potential character assassinator/bully. The letter would go something like this:

To My Neighbors,

It has recently been brought to my attention that one of our neighbors has felt it necessary to personally attack me. This neighbor, in a conversation with some co-workers, upon mention of my name started spewing unsolicited, venomous unfounded accusations about me. Well, whether the neighbor is wrong or right, it is even more problematic when it comes from a neighbor of mine who was not identified to me other than as one of my neighbors. Couple that with the fact that I learned of this gossip from a friend of a co-worker of my neighbor and neither that co-worker nor my neighbor was identified. All I have to go on is the fact that I know the profession of the co-worker, so I can surmise the identity of the neighbor, but am not sure.

I do know that there are reasons why people would make-up vicious untruths against someone. While I don’t know all those reasons, I can surmise some.

1.) The neighbor doesn’t have a life and must therefore achieve some status from attacking others who have developed a vibrant life that possibly excludes them.
2.) The neighbor is an extremely petty person that endeavors to denigrate others because the neighbor feels, perhaps subconsciously, that she/he has gotten a raw deal in life and misery loves company.
3.) The neighbor is racist/sexist and does/doesn’t know it, but somehow can’t deal with someone different from them being more successful.
4.) The person is accurate in their description of me and feels that the world needs to know the type of person I am, in contrast perhaps to what I project.

If #4 is the reason, something is still a problem with the neighbor’s decision. Based on this choice, I should be disclosing the identity of the neighbor to the public for the very same reason(s) the neighbor may have done this to me. After all, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, correct? Doesn’t the world deserve to know about a neighbor that is as far away from the concept of neighborly as you could define it. Wow! Am I wrong in believing that I am doing the same thing my gossiping neighbor did by revealing to the world that my neighbor is a gossip? What should I do here? Should I turn the other cheek just so my gossiping neighbor can talk about that side of my face as well? What would you do?

Well, the primary purpose of this letter is to let you know that we have a snake in our midst. If there is a neighbor in our community that would fabricate untruths like this about me, what would one do if she/he had access to the truth about any of us? I want all my neighbors to be on their guard for this neighbor who probably doesn’t have a life, is quite petty, possibly bigoted, and quite hypocritical. Again, I say hypocritical because she/he obviously didn’t consider how she/he would feel if the same thing occurred to her/him. It could be quite interesting to see her/his reaction when it occurs.

My neighbor, thanks for taking the time to read this correspondence. Please be cautious of whom you talk to and what you do in our neighborhood. There are people who will already construct reality for their own ill-gotten gain. Beware giving them something tangible to talk about!

First, please feel free to use this letter as a template or weapon to fight un-neighborly neighbors. Also, do you have neighbors out there who resemble the neighbor I described in this blog? Do you think this letter would be effective if such a neighbor actually read it? What approach would you take if not this one? Are there reasons beyond the ones I gave that you could suggest that describe why neighbors (or people in general) would do such nasty, mean spirited things, or is it just that those actions simply reflect a nasty, mean spirited disposition? Should the victim of this type of bullying feel disrespected, or sympathy for the poor misguided miscreant that engages in this type of behavior? What are your thoughts?


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Neighbors like the above mentioned deserve our sympathy. How utterly miserable someone's life must be to spend time devoting energy to the vicious attack of a neighbor that little is likely known about, and whom is utterly defenseless as his character and name are grabbed, shaken, beaten, gouged and dragged through the gutter. I mean, one must be in a sad, sorry, pathetic state indeed to further spread as facts fictitious situations the individual spewing the venom probably knows nothing about.

We must hold out our hand and open our arms to such a person, because it is the gossiper who needs our assistance, our compassion and our guidance. Just imagine what this individual must have already suffered in life to have turned into such an ignorant, mean-spirited person.

But at the same time, studies strongly indicate that psychological bullying can be the most damaging, leave the most scars and its affects be the most difficult to undo. Gossiping is psychological bullying, and its impact can be small, or as significant as something truly tragic, depending on the condition of the victim. What if the individual being gossiped/psychologically bullied, is in a fragile psychological state? Could the gossiper be the hand shoving the victim over the edge of a steep clilff to the jagged, merciless rocks below?

Therefore, shouldn't compassion couple with punishment when dealing with such a neighbor?

*** Steve, compassion is always the key when we are dealing with sick people. Gossiping in such a mean spirited way is an illness. How else do we begin to understand the rhyme/reason for such behavior? I personally have been gossiped about myself and other than finding clever ways to engage the gossiper (like looking a bully directly in the eyes) I would bend over backwards to ensure that the bully/gossiper understood that she/he doesn't have enough power to make me change my game. But I am feeling your assessment of such meanspirited malcontents. Thanks! *** -- J.W.

I think it's a great letter if one enjoys throwing gasoline on a fire.

Seriously, IMO, this letter gives the gossipy neighbour more attention than he/she deserves. Malicious gossipers thrive on attention and uproar--just what the letter provides.

Gossip thrives on secrecy. The person who reported this to you without divulging the miscreant's identity is, however unintentionally, abetting the gossiper. I think that I'd point that out to the reporter.

*** KB, you make a good point about the gossiper wanting attention. However, I disagree about the kind of attention gossiper/bullies seek. Attention that frames them as bullies, or people void of substantial lives, or at least lives that are full enough where they wouldn't have time to discuss other's lives, isn't the kind of attention they seek. Also, by your own omission, if gossip thrives on secrecy, then a light like that framed in the letter to the community/gossiper removes the cloak from the malicious miscreant revealing her/him for all the world to see.

I do appreciate your weighing in though. You offered some good food for thought. Thanks! *** -- J.W.

Gossip as a form of bullying is an interesting concept and I would agree, that, the gossiper, like the bully, is using power or trying to attain some power in the dyad. Although this behavior is immature at best, I think that there are benign and malignant forms of gossip, You first point out that the more benign form is a kind of group speculation about people. Here, the gossiper is perhaps curious about someone and wants some information without assertively asking the person., Or perhaps the gossiper recognizes the intrusiveness of what he or she wants to know. Sometimes, the initiator of the gossip just wants to seem as if they are "in the know" and somehow "above" the other people in the gossip circle. All of this is annoying, but my guess is that most of us have indulged in this sort of thing.

The kind of gossip you describe with the "neighbor" seems to be more of the malicious kind- a cowardly way of attacking someone behind their back. It seems to be motivated by aggression vs curiousity or weakness. Maybe it's about envy- as you suggest, or hatred of the other, or maybe it's about hatred of the self. After all, who could have any real self-respect and then treat others in such a backhanded and destructive way. I would want to highlight "destructive" because that to me is the greatest danger. This is when people spread vicious rumors that are untrue and even damaging. It reminds me of a very, very old movie called "The Children's Hour" that I saw when I was a child. It was about 2 female friends who ran a boarding school for girls. In the movie, a rumor was started (by one of the schoolgirls, I believe) that the head mistresses were lesbians. This, mind you, was in the mid-50's when this kind of "label" was a professional death sentence, expecially to people who worked with children. In the movie it wasn't long before the parents all withdrew their children, the school closed and the women's lives were essentially ruined. It was a very powerful and upsetting movie

I wonder if there would have been a different ending if the women in the film had been able to do what your letter does- which is expose and shame the gossiper- thus reclaiming the power. Is that like="he who laughs last, laughs best"?

I think that the other take home message in your blog may be about the power of words; the power they have to hurt or to redeem. I would imagine there is some satisfaction - perhaps a "poetic justice" in using words, such as in that letter- to fight back against the damaging words of the gossip. Our words are such powerful tools- or weapons.

*** AMW, I agree with your assessment that the gossiper may be seeking to elevate herself/himself above her/his gossip crew, though they actually may already have a read on her/him. I also agree it brings to mind the classic Lillian Helman play made into the film "The Children's Hour." However, unlike the irony in that film (which happens to be one of my all time favorites) most gossipers don't have the good fortune of finding "the one lie that had an ounce of truth" as it is said about the two women in the film, one whom actually was in love with the other. AMW, get out of my head would you! Thanks!! *** -- J.W.

First of all J.W., I think putting a neighbor on blast, subtly with a letter, is a clever way of addressing their gossip. Some people would waltz up to the neighbor’s door and threaten them with armory, and the situation might escalate. The result of the second option seems obvious, cliché even, but what about the reaction to the first option?

How is the neighbor to respond upon receiving this letter? If I were this gossiper, bored with my own life to the point I would stoop so low as to prove it with my filthy mouth, I would be embarrassed-thinking that the other neighbors receiving the letter would find me out. I would assume the other neighbors had already begun talking amongst themselves-attempting to find out who the culprit was. I would then feel obligated to join them in conversation, trying to uncover the dirt. But wait…I would have to do so in such a way where my fellow neighbors would not know it was me. Wow…some dung I have placed myself into huh? Hold up; don’t flush me down the toilet just yet.

Allow me to try and get out as I begin to rise from this mess. Maybe I’ll stir up some drama among the neighbors, give people clues as to who could have started the gossip-fake hints of course (if I am that good)-and yes, I have gotten deeper into the dung than when I first started. I have spread more dishonest gossip and will have to cover that up too.

My dilemma will never end, not unless I realize that what I did was pointless, reminding me of how much I am not liked-therefore I need to talk about somebody else-the only information coming out of my mouth that people will be interested in. Damn. J.W. do you have any ideas as to how I may approach you with my deepest apologies?

*** Via Via, you almost make me want to break you off for gossiping, your story and accompanying scenario of how the gossiper might respond was so authentic. However, like Sam Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, "Let me get into character," and continue to be the gangsta blogging gentleman that my Mama knows and loves! Thanks VV !! *** -- J.W.

Point taken about the gossiper not liking the attention of being outed, J.W.

I was almost convinced until VV outlined the way the gossiper would weasel out, causing even more mischief. Great post.

*** KB, wasn't VV's post great. It almost makes me wonder how much gossiping experience VV actually has. Could she be the brains behind all too-much-time-on-my-hands-neighbors residing in the North Country. The way she ran off her neighbor spiel, would you doubt she could be a master manipulator? *** -- J.W.

Touche (accent over e) J.W. I do admit that my post places me in suspicion as the culprit of such gossip rumors as we are discussing. Let’s just say I have had some first hand influence to a great deal of manipulation and it is an art I am not too proud to have mastered.

LOL, JW, I think, with her insight, she could have a career as a Gossip Buster.

Too funny, now you're illustrating her master plan--stirring up some drama! Thank goodness it's all in fun, so no harm done.

Come to think of it, if you were to write a letter, humour would probably be the most effective offense.

"Secret Life of a Gossiper"
My life is so hard. You have no idea. I just wanted to have a little fun, and all those mean people out there ganged up on me.

I just told a harmless little while lie to Hepzibah that A had said that B was a wife beater. Would you believe that Hepzibah TOLD B what I said?? Such treachery.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I lived in a small housing development through my teen years - lots of raised-ranches on 1/2-acre parcells. Maybe 40 homes. There was one woman who lived right on the corner near the entrance to the development. She didn't have to drive 50 feet to get back into her driveway, but, she'd always drive slowly around the neighborhood on her way in, and, on her way out - just to see what everyone was up to. We nick-named her "Car 54." She'd always jump to these wild conclusions about what she saw - a storage shed my father and I built turned into a second home on our lot that we were clearly NOT entitled to build. Even got a visit from the town zoning deparment. For the most part, we all knew what she was and didn't take her too seriously.
As us kids got a little older (I went to school with her kids - and I didn't like them much either) we all got less and less shy about announcing the nick name in public. I think it got back to her through her daughters because she eventually stopped.

I have another take, though, JW. How about the Gossiper as "Town Crier?" If used correctly, the Gossiper can fill a useful role in the community. For example, a friend of mine recently became ill. This friend is not one to discuss such matters, even if asked directly. Several of us heard rumors describing varying degrees of gravity that ranged from terminal to nothing at all. If one becomes aware of such rumors one may want others to know the truth without actually telling anyone oneself. So, you tell the ONE person you're SURE can't or won't keep it secret. We all have such useful disseminators of information in our lives, do we not? I believe that is what my friend did - told one person who was likely to see the rest of us and who was NOT likely to keep anything secret.

*** CB, just when I thought this topic had been milked for all it was worth, you take the conversation to the next level. So, you recommend taking the lemons the gossiper distributes and making lemonade. I think I am thirsty! Good advice CB. Oh, and rumours of my demise (in terms of the other evening's early departure) are exaggerated. Like MacArthur, I shall return!!! *** -- J.W.

I just wonder if someone who gossips really stops to think about how they are being perceived by the others they are gossiping to? Maybe their ears are wide open, but what impression does a gossiper really think they are leaving on those they gossip to? Personally, I start to frame the person as someone that is weak and not trustworthy. I certainly would not share with this person anything personal. People who gossip are immature and self-centered, looking only to entertain at the expense of others who aren't even present to defend themselves.A great deal of insecurity must exist within a person who gossips as they put others down in a desperate attempt to make themselves seem greater. Or, maybe they just don't have the intellectual wherewithal to initiate a fruitful conversation that would be interesting to others. Regardless, gossiping is inexcuseable. A good remedy is when the gossiper is faced with having to account for what he/she said. Only then will they weigh the consequences of their actions. I think the letter is a great way to mirror the ugliness of gossiping back to the gossiper. You may have invented a new form of gossip therapy!

Whoa, popular topic on here. Seems everyone and their mom is commenting. Keep up the great work.

IMHO and in my personal experience. You say to the person to their face and especially in front of others that if they don't stop their malicious lies you will sue them for slander....If they do it again, pay a Lawyer a nominal fee to write up a cease and desist order and report them to the police....That should stop them in their tracks. I believe that bullying is rampant today because people feel they have no recourse, ie: you cannot fight back by law. Indeed we have gotten too "namby pamby" about the whole issue. Frankly, I believe that bullies need a good "poke" in the nose and a stern warning never to gossip or bully again!

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