Combatting Small-Town Gossip

November 6th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 5 comments

How do you appropriately defend against a false witness? Recently I have come across a situation where someone was falsely blamed in a situation. I did not witness the supposed misdeed but I know the nature of the person blamed and know them to be far removed from the type of behavior indicated from the “blamer”. I also know the nature of the finger pointers and what they have to gain from such false witness. Popularity and position.

It is not a criminal or illegal occurrence but it has tainted the individual in question to a degree within a small rural assembly. I feel like my hands are tied. Do you have any advice for this situation other than continued show of support?

I realize this may seem vague but I do not wish to create any more drama in an already ridiculous situation.  I do feel that this is a repetitive situation in small town communities. The circumstances change but the story is sadly the same. Many times over.

Karma M.

Dear Karma,

The problem you pose and the question you are raising is not confined in any way to small towns. Our society is awash in false accusations and the politics of personal destruction.

We are often in a bind. Years ago, in a more moral age, it was easier to believe the adage, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Now, it is meaningless.  The news media have become practiced experts at producing smoke with no fire; without even a naked flame.  Ancient Jewish wisdom is always uncompromising about not spreading or listening to slander or gossip.

However – and in our day and age this is a huge “however” –  an exception  can sometimes be made if there is possibility for harm by not sharing some potentially true negative information. For example, imagine being a new resident in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors are uncomfortable with their children sleeping  over at one family’s house.  They can’t substantiate their concerns, but there is general discomfort. Should they fill you in or not?

From your perspective, as a parent, you would probably appreciate the warning. At the same time, you would have no way of knowing if it was based on valid concerns or maybe the ‘accused’ neighbor simply votes, dresses, worships or looks different from everyone else.

In the situation you are describing, standing with the person accused based on his character as you know it, is the correct thing to do. We think that you should not underestimate the importance of doing so. In a small town, it is possible that you will be shunned and face difficulties for not following the crowd. Going out of your way to show that you do not believe the charges is actually an act of courage. You can make extra efforts to connect with that person and support him socially and, if he has a local business, economically.

We don’t see that you can do much more than publicly making clear that you don’t accept the charges. There is One who knows the truth and while that doesn’t necessarily make our day to day lives seem easier, it is, in the final analysis, all that matters.

Keep being a good neighbor,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

We grew up hearing, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.”
Scripture says, “Life and death are in the hands of the tongue.”

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5 comments

Brian F. Tucker says:

Dear Rabbi,
As usual your advice is spot on. I would only add one thing. We live in a small rural community where gossip seems to be the universal pass time. But there is a saying, and I don’t know who coined it, but it goes like this ” if you point a finger at someone you will have three pointing back at you.
God bless,
Brian

M. Hefti says:

It amazes me that healthcare providers and workers violate HIPPA via gossip, ruin other people’s lives in the process, and yet still have their jobs without any accountability?

That is wrong, illegal, and needs major correction.

Carl Schleg says:

Hello MY Rabbi
Just as the 2 previous writers I too am in the middle and being falsely accused with no repercussions other than having to travel…..but I sleep good at night knowing I did the right thing…..

James says:

Gossip abounds even if one is best advised not to repeat it. Here comes the next level of cognizance: gossip is inevitable. The probability of vicious gossip is directly proportional to the status of its victim. The higher one is on any totem pole, the greater the likelihood that one will be enveloped in, beleaguered by malicious gossip. It is indeed unfortunate that if ever you accomplish something, if ever you succeed at something, if ever you do a bang-up job at anything, somebody on this benighted planet will hate you for it. This is a pernicious source of gossip. Get used to it, fight back when you can, but recognize it as inevitable and steel yourself to go on with life without worrying unduly what other people think. The best reason for someone to hate you is: envy. They want to be like you and cannot.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

Susan Lapin says:

James, you speak the truth.

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