How to fight bad gossip

People are saying untrue things about me for no apparent reason

Topics: Since You Asked, Gossip, friendships, Mentors, mentor, relationships,

How to fight bad gossip (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

A few months ago, I got a new supervisor at work.  I was excited because this is someone I’ve known for years, and have even considered a mentor in the past.  Unfortunately, I had a string of personal losses in the past few months — deaths and major illnesses of loved ones, that sort of thing — and I recently realized I was skating the edges of depression and taking it out on my supervisor.  I’ve been working to repair the damage I did, since even though it was inadvertent, it was clearly my doing.  So I was feeling pretty good about that, but then I learned that my supervisor, who is not on Facebook, has been told by others that I’m saying nasty things about her there.  I have no way to determine whether these folks are being willfully malicious, generically shit-stirring, or just very foolish, but in any case, I haven’t said anything at all, bad or good.  So I’m doubly hurt by this, first that some unknown entity would either lie or egregiously misinterpret and assume the worst, and second that my old mentor would choose to believe these stories without even questioning me.  In my head, I’ve run through various scenarios, including printing out my entire Facebook history to show her, and, well, things that are even less sane.  I want to do the sensible, straightforward thing and just tell her it isn’t true, but I’m worried that she won’t believe me or I’ll get defensive and set the relationship back again.  What can I do?

Getting Over Grief

Dear Getting Over Grief,

I think you should just do the sensible, reasonable thing and not worry too much about how she will take it. You cannot control how she takes it or what she believes. You cannot control these other people.

What these people are doing seems strange and doesn’t make sense. But maybe in some universe it makes sense. Maybe somebody believed something and thought about something and felt something and then came to believe that a certain course of action would change how they felt and so set out to … who knows!? There are people who lie and do all kinds of crazy things for their own hard-to-understand reasons. This is one of the great mysteries of life: Sometimes with malicious gossip and lies such as these, even when you figure it out as far as motive, it doesn’t make sense. Once you understand a twisted path of reasoning and misplaced feelings of hurt or threat or fear, bad upbringing, bad examples, all the environmental factors that can lead to some such poor behavior, you also have to account then for simple incompetence — the fact that even if some person did have some reason for doing these things, whatever that person wanted to accomplish wasn’t even done right. Sometimes criminals are interesting that way, for the disasters they can create that in the end have scant relation to their original intent, because they are not only twisted and evil but incompetent. Thus is the world filled with chaos and pain, and many good, puzzled people going, “Wha?”

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It’s also worth noting that your recent losses may have left you feeling raw and vulnerable and in need of human support and community. In such a state, you may be especially sensitive to malicious gossip. It will pass. Just be honest with your friend and mentor and do what you can to preserve that relationship.

In such situations, it helps to simply act as sane as you can, yourself, as if you were actually living in a sane universe.

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