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That time I had 'two black guys’

You didn’t hear it from me, and you may have heard it before but …

There was a man who heard a story about his best friend. Shocked and betrayed by the news, he could hardly contain himself, so he told his wife. 

His wife, while at book club, told her friends. Her friends, then told others. And, so it continued until the whole town knew. 

The friendship was destroyed, and the friend lost his job and nearly his marriage. But, then the man eventually learned the rumor was untrue. 

Feeling remorseful, he went to his pastor’s home to seek advice.

After asking how to heal his friendship, the pastor retrieved a pillow from the bedroom and a knife from the kitchen, handed them to the man and said, “Take this pillow outside, cut it open and scatter the feathers. We will talk about this tomorrow.” 

Confused, the man did as directed. 

The next day, the man returned to his pastor’s home and asked what the purpose of scattering the feathers was. 

The pastor replied, “Go outside and collect the feathers. Then I’ll tell you.” 

The man went outside and began collecting as many feathers as he could, but only found a handful. 

He brought the handful of feathers to the pastor and dropped them on the table. 

“So tell me,” the man said. 

The pastor responded, “You see, it’s easy to scatter the feathers, but impossible to get them all back.”

Mean girls and ‘black guys’

I recently connected with old friends from high school. We chatted, I mean, gossiped, about some of our former friends; some of whom we still talk to, but mostly not.

“I heard you hooked up with two black guys,” my high school friend said to me.

I laughed. It’s a rumor I have lived with for the better part of 20 years, and I have neither denied or claimed it to be true. I am typically amused when people, who I never think of, spend so much time dwelling on how fascinating or shocking my life appears to be. But, I’m here to finally say, it’s not true.

It all started in ninth grade. I was eager to finally be in high school after attending the same school for nine years with the same 20 classmates. And, I experienced what many girls experience that first year – mean girls.

There was one group of particularly mean girls, and Marie was the ring leader. She was stunning and popular and I had no idea why I was her target. But, I quickly learned how to navigate the route to my classes the long way in an effort to avoid her. The mean girls taunted me and spread rumors about me to a degree that caused me to eventually drop out.

A few years later, I went to a club to watch a band – alone. As I was standing there in the crowd, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. It was one of Marie’s friends, who I had long forgotten about.

“You better watch your back because you’re going to get your ass kicked,” she said.

I lost it. Years of gossip, of rumors and of bullying got the best of me. And, I beat the devil out of Marie that night – until her friends pulled me off of her and someone popped me with their fist, square between the eyes.

Months later, I was relaying the story of that night to an acquaintance. Someone overheard bits and pieces of how I had two black eyes. But, when you’re a gossip, sometimes you hear only what you want to and write the rest of the narrative. And, that’s how the story of the “two black guys” was born.

I hate that it happened and I regret that we fought. Over the years, I have thought about sending her an apology. But, then I think about how the gossip and rumors started by Marie and her entourage robbed me of memories I never had the chance to make.

In retrospect, I only regret how I handled it. But, it better prepared me for adulthood, as these types of people still exist. (Yes, I’m talking about you Heather.)

Reputation at risk

It doesn’t take much to spread damaging information and hurtful words. As awful as it is, we all engage in this guilty pleasure. (I mean, hey ... it’s part of my job.)

Who loves a good earful of gossip? Everyone. Who is ruined by gossip? Everyone. 

The person who spreads gossip is now an unreliable source and untrusted friend. As for the person being gossiped about, the damage can extend well beyond their reputation.

If gossip is so harmful, why do we feel the need to engage in talk about the intimate and personal details of the lives of other people, in which we may or may not know the entire story? 

While gossip does serve a purpose, like building social bonds, gossip is typically spread to project the faults of others while distracting from our own. Let’s all make a pact to be better.

Socratic Method

So, when you get an earful, consider the Triple Filter test – attributed to Socrates – before spreading hurtful, hateful or otherwise damaging information.

• Is the information true? Can you say, without a doubt, that what you know this information to be absolute truth? If you heard the information second hand, then the answer is no.

• Is the information kind? To spread malicious information in spite of someone only breeds negativity. Be the good.

• Is the information useful? Sometimes gossip gives you enough information to help people escape desperate situations.

However, in my own ill-speaking of others and as the target of gossip, I have learned it mostly adds unnecessary complexity to our lives and devalues the relationships in front of us.

So, if I can leave you with just one thought, let it be this: 

Be kind, and believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see. 

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