Every year, many lives are damaged permanently and untold misery is caused by malicious gossip. Almost every one of us has suffered from it, and yet many of us continue to talk irresponsibly about others.

When I was a young fellow, tongues began to wag about the 17-year-old daughter of one of our neighbors. The girl had been seen, according to a gossip, getting out of a young man’s car at 8 in the morning and staggering up the steps of her home.

The story buzzed around the neighborhood, gathering details as it went. There was talk of a wild weekend at a party on a Chicago college campus. Some neighbors drew the conclusion that this was obvious to them and treated the girl accordingly — with glaring stares and silence.

A few weeks later, the girl attempted suicide by taking a lethal dose of sleeping pills. Fortunately, her younger sister went into the girl’ room to get something, saw her on the floor, and called an ambulance.

The girl was taken to West Suburban Hospital, where her stomach was pumped, and she survived. A subsequent investigation revealed the truth.

The girl had gone to a college dance with several other girls, and with their parents’ knowledge, and all of the girls spent the night in a women’s dormitory at the college and did not get much sleep.

The girls were picked up the next morning by the 23-year-old brother of one of the girls, and the girls were driven to their respective homes.

Our neighbor girl staggered up the stairs of her home due to weariness, not alcohol.

The young man driving was not known to a gossipy neighbor, who happened to see the girl arrive and found it to be a juicy morsel for her round of morning phone calls.

I believe that many people who start harmful gossip are motivated by hate, envy, and the desire to feel important. Rarely does righteous indignation, which slanderers sometimes pretend, play a part in malicious gossip.

Our neighbor was slandered possibly because she was young and popular. The so-called wild party story was made up by people who probably led repressed lives and who secretly wished they could have attended a wild party.

My grandmother, who detested gossip, had a way of handling gossipy people. Whenever a visitor came to our home and said something unpleasant about another person or repeated a derogatory remark, my grandmother would tell the visitor that she would make a phone call in the visitor’s presence to the maligned person in order to verify the truth of the derogatory remark.

Nothing but a complete retraction from the slanderer would prevent my grandmother from making the call. Her actions resulted in many quick retractions and caused people to never gossip in her presence.

Many of us have been carriers of hurtful gossip, often without thinking.

For some, it is fun to gossip, and these people are inclined to forget the dividing line between the harmless and the malicious.

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