Joyful Musings – June 2011

Joyful Musings

By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,

The Devil’s Radio


Rumors run rampant here at Lakeside. And false rumors seem to run even faster than true ones. What is it about small-town living that makes everybody else’s business so interesting?

In a small community like ours, we are all more visible to each other. We tend to know more of our neighbors, and it’s easier to meet new people and make friends. We look out for one another. That’s the good part of life here.

Retirement brings more time for socializing and idle conversation, and nothing makes better conversation than gossip or a juicy rumor. That’s a not-so-good part of Lakeside living.

The dictionary defines gossip as idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It is one of the oldest and most common means of sharing information and opinions but also has a reputation for introducing errors and variations on the original story. Remember the old telephone game and how different those stories became with each repetition?

Gossip is usually benign in intent but can sometimes have harmful consequences. It has been called “the devil’s radio” because it spreads information that is interesting but not necessarily factual. Talking about others who are not there to speak for or defend themselves can spread untruths, destroy trust, and damage relationships. If someone has shared something personal with you, that information does not become yours to share with others. And don’t forget, a person who gossips to you will surely later gossip about you.

It is laughingly said, “the nice part about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does.” Trouble is, they don’t really; they just think they do. And once a rumor gets started, stopping it is like trying to un-ring a bell.

The dangers of gossip are cautioned in almost all spiritual traditions. Buddhist teaches “right speech” as an important principle of the eightfold path toward enlightenment. Right speech means to abstain from lying, divisive and abusive speech, and idle chatter.

I wrote recently about The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Gossip violates at least two of these agreements. Ruiz says to “Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Avoid using words to speak against yourself or gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

Ruiz also says, “don’t make assumptions.” Gossip often spreads assumptions we have made about others’ behavior or intentions without checking out the facts and learning the whole story.

Our community is small, and we are easily available to each other. Take the time and have the courage to communicate with others before spreading rumors based on assumptions.

Most people appreciate others taking an honest interest in them and would be willing to discuss something with you directly. And if they’re not willing, you certainly shouldn’t be discussing it with others.

Singer and actress Lisa Kirk, put it well when she said, “A gossip is one who talks to you about others; a bore is one who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself.” Be a more brilliant conversationalist and less of a gossip. Your friends will appreciate it.

Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist in Riberas. She can be contacted at or 765-4988.

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