Maybe my true calling was to be an advice columnist. Ever since I learned to babble, I've been driven to eagerly force huge gobs of unasked-for advice on friends and relatives. I'm just trying to give them a little MUCH NEEDED intelligent direction, but often they're ungrateful. A woman friend might say, "I love you, but buzz off!" A cousin once said wonderingly, "It's amazing how someone can talk like a book and say so many dumb things at the same time." Well, pooh on you, Paul!
But now I have a blog, and can give unfettered advice at great length. If you would like to ask my opinion about something (Please! Please!), put your question in the Comments section. I'll try to have an Aunt Margot's Great (Not Goofy) Advice post every month or so. And this was the first question, a rather serious one.
I've just heard some pretty nasty, unbelievable gossip about somebody I've known for years. He's not a close friend, but we move in the same circles. He's always seemed like a nice, normal guy, successful at his job, and the gossip doesn't fit what I know about him. But maybe you never do really know someone...How should I treat him? And how can I figure out what to believe?"
(signed) Astonished and Wondering
I'm no gossip expert. I was raised by sweet, kind parents who never knowingly said a harmful word about anyone. So, I was never inoculated with the Gossip virus. But this is how I'd respond:
A rumor is just a rumor. Moses did not carry it down from the mountaintop engraved on tablets of stone. There is no eleventh commandment which says, "Thou shalt be guilty if enough of us want you to be."
What you should care about is the facts. Google the gossiped-about person all the way through to his back fillings and toenail-parings, if you must. You'll only be joining the 200 million or so fellow Americans, including me, who enjoy this pastime. Look him up in the Circuit Court Access files, which are open to the public in many states. If everything you find out is harmless, or reasonably positive, then the chances are your friend really is nice and normal. You probably aren't acquainted with the next Bernard Madoff, or a debauched monster, or an axe-swinging serial murderer. And, since you're not an idiot, stay focused on actual evidence. Because the next fact, a depressing one, is this:
Unfortunately there are some people of thirty, forty, sixty, eighty and beyond, who have lived their entire lives as Eighth Grade Mean Girls or Zit Boys. They have never moved emotionally beyond their wildly envious, rabidly malicious thirteenth year. The concept of Slander as a harmful (and felonious) activity has no reality for a person like this. There is no rumor so low, unsupported, unlikely, or plainly incredible that they won't do their best to make you believe it.
A chronic nasty gossip is like a drug addict. The high they get is a sense of power. They frantically snuff it, huff it, and gobble it up. They would stuff it into every orifice if they could. A relative who remembers the days when every home had its chamber pot, calls people like this Pot Lickers.
So, Astonished, when you're deciding what to believe about people, remember that reality is always, always your best friend. Don't be one of life's Pot Lickers.
Wishing you well,