I love Buffalo, but I can’t stand how small this town is sometimes. When someone badmouths you in this city, it gets around fast, and most of the time you know exactly who’s doing the badmouthing. It’s happening to me right now. Someone I used to work with is spreading rumors about me that aren’t true. I worry that my reputation might be damaged, and because this is a small town, the rumors might hurt me professionally too.
What do I do about this sort of smearing? And don’t tell me to confront the culprit—I’m certain that will only encourage more badmouthing. I could do some smearing of my own, but that doesn’t seem like a good answer. So what do I do?
The Practical Cogitator says: A favorite quote of mine comes to mind: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” (While disputed, it’s widely attributed to Elanor Roosevelt.)
You certainly don’t want to fall into the “small mind” category yourself. In the area of professionalism, you will find the types who mistake gossip for gospel to be of little influence or purpose in the long run, so it’s not all that important what they or their circle believe about you. In fact, proving people like this wrong can be a great motivator. Be a “great mind,” focused on your ideas. Let your work speak for itself, and you’ve got nothing to worry about professionally. The background noise will fade and be forgotten.
The Gay Perspective: The insidious thing about evil gossip is that once a lie has been spoken, there will always be lingering doubt in the minds of some that there was at least a grain of truth to the story. Anyone who has ever been accused of something they did not do, knows this. The smaller the town, the more evil the influence of gossip; think of Peyton Place.
I would tell you to confront the evil doer in an even-tempered way, but you have taken that option off the table. Under these circumstances, the best you can do is distance yourself from the bad-mouther and rise above the talk. In time, all gossip becomes old. It is probable that your enemy is looking for a juicy reaction; don’t provide that satisfaction. Ignoring gossip may be difficult, but it can be important. Do not retaliate in kind—this sort of behavior simply perpetuates gossip. In fact, keep your nose clean—do not engage in gossip yourself and discourage others from doing so.
Finally, you can use every opportunity to correct the record—but do not go around creating opportunities to do so. Let these untruths return to hurt the one who has perpetuated them—let friends know that you think it is sad that this person feels compelled to behave so despicably by spreading stories that are hurtful and untrue. What a sad little person this is whose greatest happiness in life is derived from being a gossip-monger.
Of course, if this person ever says anything that is actually actionable, that is to say materially damaging, you can consult a lawyer; sometimes a cease and desist letter with embarrassing copies sent to an attorney and to important people in the jerk’s life will put a stop to the foolishness.
My best friend is seriously dating a woman with real psychological problems. I know, because I’m the pharmacist who fills her prescriptions, and I know what diagnosis her combination of medications and dosages suggests. I know for a fact that my friend has no notion that she’s in treatment. It’s good that she’s apparently taking (or at least buying) her medications; it does not seem great to me that she’s concealing her issues for him, especially as they’ve been together for about a year.
So that’s what I know, and I feel like I’m faced with the ethics of my profession vs. the ethics of friendship. What are my obligations here?
—Take Two in the Morning
The Gay Perspective: Your professional obligation trumps your personal friendship. Keep your mouth shut.
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