October 24, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if the rumor mill ran out of steam? That's not likely to happen, as gossip spreads around a small town faster than a speeding bullet. The problem is, it can be more powerful than a locomotive and often is a tall tale, able to leap the tallest building. That's where the comparison between rumors and Superman stops.

My three-year-old has a cartoon about gossip. It's from the popular Veggie Tales line and features a super hero pitted against a horrible monster, The Rumor Weed, which starts out little but turns into a giant as new, more outlandish material is added to the original gossip to make it a truly far-fetched tale.

I think about the 19th time I watched this with Abi it started to sink in to me that there were rumor weeds all over Memphis. I stopped to think back over the week and review some of the "news" that I had heard about people. Regardless of the situation, it seemed like no matter who it was or how outrageous the story was, a person always assumed it was at least partially true. There had to be some source, some logical reason why the story started, right?

Then I got to thinking back to when I was little. I didn't have Veggie Tales but we did have a little game that could have been called rumor weeds. If you're as old as I am you probably remember the game. You lined up a dozen people or so, side by side. The game started by whispering a sentence into the first person's ear. They then turned to the next person in line and passed along the information. Needless to say by the time it got to the end of the group, the story had changed dramatically, and often had no resemblance at all to the original statement.

Let's face it folks, so many of these bits of information we hear spreading around our community, they are often just like this little game. Someone may have seen me up on my roof earlier this morning with a rope. While I was actually hauling up some materials to fix a leak, I imagine by the time the day was over the rumors were flying. I was either up there preparing to hang myself because of all the negative feedback I got about a controversial rumor editorial, or maybe my wife had kicked me out of the house and I was constructing a clothes line above my new home. Sounds far fetched, but it really is not that much of an exaggeration compared to some of the whoppers I've heard floating around our community from time to time about people that I know and trust.

It may sound like I'm on a soapbox preaching to readers. I don't claim to be perfect by any means. It's human nature to be interested about the lives of others. I'm just suggesting we stop and think about all those people affected by what you are hearing or telling. Do you know for a fact, without a doubt what you just broadcast on the telephone party line is the truth? Did you get a good grade in math - because a lot of people seem to be trying to put two and two together and getting lots of wrong answers. Just because you saw me on the roof with a rope doesn't mean I'm suddenly suicidal or that I'm looking for a new laundry service. And while you may have been the only one to see my roof construction project, that little tale you started will quickly have made its way across town. A couple days later my grandma is calling me wanting to know why I was taking the space shuttle to the moon to pick up my dry cleaning.

Of course it's ironic. By using myself in this little example I'm sure rumors will start about the author. Hey did you read that article? Someone must be spreading rumors about him! I don't think I am bulletproof by any means, but the truth be known, I lead a pretty boring life. There's not much glamour in gossip about a guy going fishing too much or someone who's idea of a fun evening is escaping to the quiet upstairs to play a computer game or watch reruns of Law & Order. So I'm not too worried about myself. I just wish more people watched Veggie Tales because maybe then we could get rid of all these rumor weeds.

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