Why are we so willing to believe bad things about good people?
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get sucked in by gossip?
Sometimes it doesn't even matter where it came from. If it's juicy enough we'll buy it.
I could be sitting in a meeting at church, and if one of the most dysfunctional people in the entire congregation suddenly announced that our mild-mannered minister was having an affair with the cleaning lady, half the people there would want to know the details.
It's like just because someone says it or writes it, it must be true.
I've seen the phenomenon play out over and over again. A somewhat less than credible source, person A, shares information about person B and, even if it's contrary to everything we've ever known about person B, we'll still believe it.
We hear that a boss we've known to be levelheaded did something rash; or that a co-worker we've always experienced as helpful is sabotaging; or that a neighbor we've always known to be kind did something malicious, and our first reaction isn't usually to question the information. It's to express our shock that so-and-so could do something so awful.
We may say, "I can't believe," but in reality we do.
It's almost as if we have no pause button. As if we're somehow incapable of saying, "Hmm that doesn't sound like her." Or, "Are you sure about that? Because that's not how I ever experienced him."
It doesn't matter whether it's PTA gossip about a room mom stealing money from the popcorn booth or a much-forwarded e-mail about a politician who burns the flag and secretly worships the devil.
If it's negative information, we rarely dismiss it.
But have you ever noticed that the people repeating these stories seem to enjoy telling them just a little too much?
Or that the co-worker accusing the boss of playing favorites can cite lots of examples where she's been the victim?
Or that the neighbor who's eager to tell you how so-and-so did him wrong has experienced numerous incidents where people have disrespected him?
Or that the person sharing the torrid details of the affair seems to finds endless ways to be the center of attention?
I find that if the story is negative, it usually has more to do with the person telling it than it does the actual event itself. Whether they're trying to get sympathy, validate their own belief system, or just hold center court, if there's a continual theme to their talk, that's when the bells should go off.
Perhaps instead of jumping to conclusions and searching for evidence to support the bad thing we just heard, we might want to hit the pause button and consider where it came from.
Ask yourself: Is this in keeping with what I know to be true about the story subject? Or is this more typical of what I often hear from this storyteller?
If your experiences with the gossipee are more positive than with the gossiper, you probably have your answer. And if you hear something about someone that doesn't match the way you have experienced them, feel free to speak up.
Because after all, if some dysfunctional neurotic gossip-monger started talking about you, wouldn't you want someone to give you the benefit of the doubt?