Like many people, I was the subject of a rumor in grade school. I didn't know what was going on until a classmate came up to me, said that she had heard some things about me, and wanted to know what the truth was. I listened to what she had heard, informed her that the rumor was false, and then she said, "That's what I thought. You just didn't seem like that kind of person."
But here's the kicker: she and I were hardly more than acquaintances. The rumors were being spread by people I considered friends.
A person that I thought didn't know me well enough to question a rumor was the only one who did.
Fast-forward to college. I dyed my hair black as a part of my Halloween costume. I used the temporary 28-day color, but left it in too long when I was dying my hair. It didn't come out after 28 days. It looked just as vibrant as the day I put it in.
The community where my parents live is very close-knit. We all know each other and have for a long time. There was a community gathering around the time that my black hair and I went home for Thanksgiving that year. I caught a lot of people staring at me and whispering to each other. I assumed they were just laughing to themselves at how different my hair looked until one person walked up to me, gave me a big hug, and said, "I love you no matter what color your hair is."
I went to a university close to home, so it wasn't hard to make regular visits each semester; It's not like it had been years since they last saw me. They all knew I was a good girl, yet many of them were ready to question my very character when the only thing that had changed about me was my hair color.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not bitter or resentful at anyone associated with those two instances. We're all human and there's no point in hanging onto something that you can't go back and change. But to say I didn't learn anything would be untrue. Beyond the reminder that one shouldn't put oneself in a situation that could start a rumor, the one major thing I learned was this: How quick we are to forget everything good we know about someone and start entertaining a completely obscure idea about them when something out-of-the-ordinary happens.
I don't know why we do that. Maybe we don't want to look like the fool when someone we were supposed to know is being talked about differently than we would expect; Perhaps we're so used to stereotyping people that we forget that stereotypes don't fit everyone; Maybe we don't know how to stand our ground in a crowd; Perhaps we're embarrassed to talk to the person for fear that they'll think badly of us for even considering the rumor in the first place.
But I do know this:
Too many people in the world today seem to thrive on knowing and spreading "information" about others. Don't be that person. If you hear something about someone that's not in line with what you know about them, doubt what you heard until you have a chance to find out for yourself. If you don't know the person well enough to justify finding out more, then let it go and move on with your own life.
Isn't that what you would want others to do if you were the one being talked about?