“That’s how rumors get started.”

I was just in the middle of a tiny, harmless rumor, made of assumptions and tidbits of information.  No harm, no foul, but a reminder of bigger, more harmful rumors.

Well, I have been known to love me some juicy gossip.  Harmless fun, like reading trashy fiction, right?

Years ago, I worked for a church.  One of my jobs was to oversee the nursery program.  This was in the early 90s, when we weren’t really sure how AIDS or HIV were transmitted, and there was no known treatment at all.  We knew who was most at risk, but perhaps we were ALL at risk. (Ignorance is a great feeding ground for rumors.)

The Mother church offered training about protecting yourself from blood borne pathogens.  Standard issue training, right?  No, that was the first time we had heard that phrase, the first box of latex gloves I had ever bought. When I came back from the training, I bought some gloves for the nursery and told the workers to use them when changing diapers or dealing with a boo boo, for their protection, and for the protection of the children.  Back then, we all would argue: “But I am fine…”, and then remember, the children…  The parents would argue: “But my child is fine…” and then remember, us.  So the gloves made everyone look at everyone else: “Is there something up with you?”

Sure enough, the gloves triggered a rumor.  There must be a child in the nursery with AIDS.  Then, the rumor went on to decide which child it was. The rumor told everyone with young children who had AIDS in the nursery.  Surprise!  No one was being dropped off for nursery!

You know the next part: someone said something to the mother of the child who did not have AIDS.  The assumptions were clear to everyone: that child that you don’t like, he is not very cute, he is mean to your child, he is not as clean as he should be, he is different from the other children. Easy to spot the child who surely has AIDS, right?

Do you think that mother has ever forgotten that?  Do you think that pain can ever be undone?

These people all meant well.  They all loved their children, and were kind to most.

My lesson: Don’t judge much.  Check the facts.  Ask others to check facts.  Ask others: “How do you know that?”  “What made you think that?” Think of the consequences and ask others not to spread “information” that has not been substantiated.  Think of how you would feel if this were speculation about you, or your child.

We all need better hobbies than that.