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Gossip: A Lippery Slope

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Blabber mouthing and lip-flapping. It's fodder for scuttlebutty emails, flippant text messages and pernicious phone calls. Gossip makes small towns small-minded, and can strike all ages -- from children's whispering to grownups' idle prattle. Not to mention how gossip can wreak havoc in the office and destroy a sense of teamwork that's been years in the making.

Button it up, people. Take the high road. Do not talk about people behind their backs. You never know when it might come back to sting you.

I am still haunted by the fourth-grade memory of telling my best friend Isabelle that the mother of our mutual friend, Lucy, was a real b---- (rhymes with "itch"). Unbeknownst to me, my comment spread to everyone in my Girl Scout troop. Before I knew it, guess who was our new Girl Scout leader the next fall? Lucy's mother.

When Mrs. Chase got wind of the cheeky character assessment, she soon learned that the person who called her a b---- was that innocent-looking cross-eyed girl wearing braids and cat-shaped glasses (who happened to be me). Thereafter, my beloved Girl Scout leader made it unattainable to achieve my sewing badge. (Even though I displayed awesome hem-stitching skills with my sit-upon when I was a Brownie.) That really hurt.

Seek to uphold "the small town code." If someone casts for dish, avert the exchange. Be politic when pressed.

For example, if Nosy Parker asks: "Did you hear that Kate secretly texts Lizzie's boyfriend?" say something that diverts the convo-traffic pattern, like, "No, but did you hear about the seed packet sale at Chubby's Hardware?"

Pulling a non-sequitur out of your hat is a surefire way to let the other person know you're not game for gossip. By the way, "seed packets" can be replaced with "gin and tonics," "screwdrivers," "evening gowns"... It doesn't matter. What is impressive though, is that you're not giving in to Nosy Parker and her potentially destructive inquisition.

"By refusing to provide a receptive ear to gossip, or an active mouth to spread it, you'll diminish its effect on your life and others," said Wanda Urbanska, former host of the national PBS television series Simple Living and co-author of Moving to a Small Town: A Guidebook to Moving from Urban to Rural America.

Practice verbal restraint. Remember: in a small town, everyone has a bloodline either by family, friendship or business. Utter disparaging words, and they're likely to cross town in a snap. Set the office on fire by lunchtime. Crumble the empire by sunset.

Here are five tips to help you live by the small town code:

  • Steer clear from vicious gossip. (In other words, avoid the grapevine.)
  • If you criticize someone, smart listeners will be alert to the fact that they are next in your line of fire. (In other words, if someone is incessantly sassing someone behind their back, you can be sure they will sass you samely. Just give it time.)
  • If you have blabbermouth tendencies, zip it. (In other words, save the maliciousness for your pet. They are always good listeners. Plus, they can't spread rumors.)
  • Seek to protect one another's feelings. Look out for the other guy. (In other words, your
    friends, colleagues and neighbors.)
  • As Bill Gates once said so astutely, "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one." (In other words, down the road, your Mr. Smarty-Pants comments might come back to bite you. When I was in entertainment, I learned to always be nice to the talent coordinators at the network morning shows. My boss once told me, "You never know. They could be the next host of the The Today Show.")

"Respect each and every person because that is what binds us all as a community," said Coach Herman Boone, the renowned football legend portrayed in the film Remember the Titans. And this is the part that I love: "Watch your words because they will become your actions. Watch your actions because they will become your character. Watch your character because that's who you are."

You said it, brother. I didn't. I swear. It wasn't me.

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