For years together it was believed that the earth was flat. Someone somewhere on the basis of some assumptions would have come to this conclusion which would then have been ‘proven’ on the basis of a few known facts and vehemently supported by well-meaning intellectuals of the time. With the spread of this information/ misinformation from ear to ear, people worldwide assumed the earth to be flat until a Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the earth and proved otherwise, substantiating the claims of others with beliefs similar to his own. How many wrong notions would have been prevented only if people did not spread unverified information in those early days!
Just a month back, reports announced discovery of 3,500 tonnes of gold valued at 12 lakh crore in an eastern Uttar Pradesh district in India. What soon followed was elation by the district administration along with speculative preparations as to how the gold could be used. The raging rumours were put to rest in a matter of few days by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) which stated that the quantity of gold that had been discovered was 160 kilograms and not 3,500 as had been clearly exaggerated. That was the end of the rumour.
Rumour and gossip – are both same?
Though the two words are at times used interchangeably, there is a fine line between the two. Gossip is unrestricted conversation about people or events. What is being gossiped about may not necessarily be false or exaggerated. The purview of gossip is generally within a social circle or a limited sphere. Rumours, on the other hand involve circulation of unverified or doubtful information. They seem to be true but may not essentially be true. The scope of the spread of rumours is without bounds. Japanese American sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumours as “improvised news” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. In other words, people need something or the other to talk about all the time.
Which types of people generally create and/ or spread rumours?
Though all people are instrumental in creating and spreading rumours (even if unintentionally), there are certain types of people who are more active in this area.
- People of talkative nature
- People of suspicious attitude
- Attention-seeking people
- Hedonistic people
- Sadistic people
Why and how are rumours spread?
What is very interesting to note is that some rumours are absolutely baseless. They might have been started by attention-seeking hedonistic people but thrive by the constant transmission by unsuspecting others who do not bother to double-check on the facts. To give an example, in the present days of the pandemic Covid-19 there is a picture of a teary-eyed man doing the rounds in social media circles with the caption stating – it wrenches the heart to see the Italian Head of state shedding tears on the present state of affairs. Well, the fact is that the picture is not of the Italian PM but that of the Brazilian President and has no connection whatsoever with the current world situation. How many thousands would have forwarded that post (and still continue to) can be reserved for speculation!
Though some rumours are momentarily entertaining, not all are harmless. Think of the bloody communal/ racist riots and hatred that spread because of one igniting rumour. Thousands of people end up losing their lives, amiable relationships become constrained, property is damaged and peace is lost. At times, generations continue to be victimized for one rumour which caused certain uproar years before.
Rumours cause way more damage than can be repaired. They can leave people emotionally scarred for life. Many relationships have broken because of rumours questioning the fidelity one of the partners by mere outsiders. Rumours, especially those that are personal in nature reduce self-esteem of individuals and cause a decline in overall performance efficiency. Grapevine communications in most organizations pass on opinions and suspicions that are way too damaging.
What do you and I need to do?
We live in times when rumours are plentiful, spread at galloping speed, are made viral for commercial gains and take violent turns too. How can we respond responsibly?
Speak less – This is the all-purpose antidote to the many ills caused by the jingle of our vocal cords. Hence, refrain from unwanted gossip.
Use leisure time productively – Rather than catching up with similar minded gossip mongers or picking up the mobile and calling up people one after the other in free time to feast on juicy stories, its wise not to fall victim to such idle time indulgences.
Beware of the ‘forwarding addiction’ – Some of us can’t help but forward texts, posts, videos and any content that we feel ‘others ought to know’. But, it is imperative to remember that at times we do more disservice than service to others and ourselves by such of our actions.
Do your research – Whether you desire to share information or not, always verify information received from others before you choose to believe them. Verify information before you can call them ‘facts’.
Share only authentic information – Before you share information, make sure what you share is authentic and necessary/ beneficial for the other person/ others.
Break the chain of rumours – Just as you need to exercise caution not to create or believe in rumours, you need to take a stand against relishing, propagating and seeing rumours spread. Stay away from rumour mongers!
Apologize if you have in some way spread a rumour or created one – At times, we become a part of the chain of spread of rumours either because of ignorance or because of a failure to verify facts. In such times, it is pertinent to issue a word of apology as soon as the truth meets the eye.
If you have been victimised by a rumour
If you are a person who has been victimised by rumours either at an individual or societal level, take time to deal with it. No, I won’t suggest you to laugh it away – because not all rumours can be laughed away. Neither, would I suggest that you wait for an opportunity to avenge. But, I would urge you to take your hurts and scars to God who would heal you and fill your heart with His peace.
Each of us is accountable before God for all that we say and do. There can be no blame-shifting before Him. So it would be wise to verify all that we believe in before propagating the same, lest it would result in some irreparable damage to self or others.