We may not be exactly teeming with industry or jobs or even people, for that matter, but this little South Delta town (Rolling Fork) can claim ownership of one of the absolute finest rumor mills to be found anywhere within this great land of ours.
Something happens to somebody. Somebody else hears something about it and promptly tells somebody else, who, in turn, passes along what’s almost never the tidings of great joy to yet another inquiring mind, and there you have it—from raw material to finished product—a first-rate rumor.
Spending as I do, an inordinate amount of my time in rumor control, I often wonder: what in the world would all these good folk have to talk about were they not making up stuff? How would they entertain their greatness-breeding-ground minds while they drink their morning coffee, pass around among themselves the one copy of my newspaper that actually gets purchased, or get their hair done?
Yessiree, gossip is great. Why, it’s a regular American pastime, which like all such things is practiced better in some places than in others.
Best I can tell, there are only two possible exceptions anybody could take to it. One, of course, is that it is almost never accurate—the whole process is like that parlor game where you sit around in a circle and whisper something to the person next to you, and by the time it gets back around to you, is nothing like what you originally said. Hence, all my forced rumor control time.
And the other is that gossiping is simply a vile and despicable thing to do, as it almost always results in pain and suffering for what are often completely innocent people who as matter of sheer proximity, happen to be their neighbors. This one falls perilously close to the category of sin, however, and folks with a whole lot more connections in high places than do I have been campaigning against sin, without notable success, for quite some time, now, so I will avoid a drift into metaphysics.
But sometime back, I decided that being surrounded by it, I probably ought to develop some rule of thumb about gossip, and so I came up with Mosby’s Corollary of Making Stuff Up, which is now an essential adjunct to Mosby’s Collected Laws of Everything and which goes like this: Human beings gossip about a subject in inverse proportion to their knowledge of it.
Practically applied, here’s how it works:
• If somebody comes to me and says, “I heard something about something happening to somebody and I would like to know if there is any truth to it since my (wife, husband, significant other, etc.) is on the verge of spreading it all over town,” I have a lot of respect for that person.
• If somebody comes to me and says, “I heard about something happening to somebody and you know I wouldn’t repeat this to a soul, but what can you tell me about it,” I tell that person very little because I know that he or she will also lie about other things.
• But, if somebody comes to me and says, “I heard about something happening to somebody and I know it’s true, because somebody else who does the same thing was at the same place at the same time,” I automatically disregard anything subsequently said, and categorize that person as a mindless toad.
Because here’s the thing, folks: All of these people are amateurs.
The only people who gossip for a living are people like me. People who are pros at it. People who can and do separate the wheat from the chaff and more often than not find out there’s not a hint of a commodity left.
People like me make their livings (less and less desirable ones these days) finding out not only the “juicy” details, but also the mitigations and the motives and then making the training and experience refined decisions of whether they can—and should—be printed.
And speaking of motives, I had long suspected and now am right certain that a goodly number of our now established amateur gossips—our blowers of smoke—do so for a definite, pre-meditated and decidedly self-serving reason.
See, if you are making up stuff about somebody else—directing attention toward somebody else—why, that is the very definition of creating a diversion. Blow enough smoke in the direction of other people and it just might obscure those of your ilk from focusing too much on what you might be doing.
I reckon it is almost admirable in a perverse sort of way—self-preservation in the best Darwinian sense.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.