We've all had false rumors spread about us. I am certainly no stranger to false rumors spread about me. The first one I can remember was when I was in the 5th grade.
That year I was so sick that I missed 2 weeks of school. When I got back (and despite a letter from my mom informing the school I was sick), everyone looked at me differently, like I'd walked onto the set of some B-grade horror film. Some kids feared me. Others thought I was cool.
Why? Because the rumor had spread that I had been sent to juvenile hall. My teacher even pulled me aside, got down on one knee, looked at me with the comical seriousness of hound dog, and asked: "Ruben are you square with the law now?"
Am I square with the law?
"Mr. D'amico, the whole thing is a rumor. I was home sick."
Ironically, I think I disappointed him -- I mean, after his groveling humanitarian reaching out to the most troubled youth in the black board jungle and all.
I don't think we ever spoke again after that. But maybe it wasn't him. Maybe it was me. Maybe because even then, at 11 years of age, I knew that the teacher, everybody, had accepted the premise of the rumor. And I think that bothered me; for it said something about the way people saw me. (Maybe it said more about them than me. But an 11 year old can hardly be expected to accept such things with the zen-like tranquility of a cow.)
But alas, for the next few years my nick name was "Juvy Ruby."
No denials or explanations of mine were remotely sufficient to quell the rumor, because of course that's what criminals do: lie.
The truth of it is that not all rumors are deliberate attempts at coercion (call these rumors of propaganda; and some can be malicious and destructive indeed). Some rumors are a kind of spice that we all seem to need from time to time to enliven the ordinary and the dull (call these rumors of entertainment). A 5th grader being sick is simply not in the same league, interest-wise, as a 5th grader going to jail.
But, what is true of spice is also true of some forms of entertainment: too much can give you heartburn. So please, don't just swallow the premise of a rumor. Find out if it's true. And even then, take no joy in the folly and misfortune of others.
(Originally posted elsewhere 18 May 2011)