I only wish this childhood rhyme were true: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Years ago my husband was deployed and I was left behind with our three boys. I was busy leading two cub scout groups, creating the spouse club and unit monthly newsletter and helping to oversee the care of our unit families.
One afternoon I found myself in the rear detachment sergeant’s office, during a very difficult time for our unit. I noticed the time and realized I wouldn’t make it back to take my son off the bus. As I had done several times in the past, I called my good neighbor Sally to take Tommy off the bus. Sally was authorized to do so and Tommy felt comfortable with her.
On this particular day, though, the school district had finally put some new buses into the system, with my son on one of them. The paperwork authorizing Sally to take Tommy off the bus had not transferred to the new bus, though. The bus driver would not let Tommy off the bus with my neighbor and proceeded to drive him back to his school.
As the bus pulled away from my house, Sally called me and was very upset as she told me what had happened. I told her not to worry, I’d leave immediately and head to the school as fast as I could. Fortunately, I met Tommy only minutes after he arrived to his school and he wasn’t too upset.
The next day I received a call from my husband, who was quite upset himself. Probably tired from a lack of sleep, he barked at me, “What’s going on?”
My husband told me that he had received a call that I had been drunk on the front lawn the previous day and that the bus driver refused to let Tommy off the bus to me.
I was confused, to say the very least. I immediately told him what had actually happened and that I’m sure the NCOIC could easily verify it from his end, too. We actually ended the conversation laughing a little, realizing that we had just received the tail end of a game of Telephone Gossip.
It took me a few days, and a few friends, to find out what may have happened to get the false information to my husband.
Sally and I were of similar body types and hairstyles. It’s very possible that a neighbor who didn’t know us very well saw Sally and mistook her for me, even though I’m at least a foot taller. She was very agitated and nearly in tears when she called me on her cell phone, which could have possibly looked like someone who was drinking in the middle of the day and upset that her child wasn’t let off the bus.
I was told that someone called their husband at work to tell him what they had witnessed. That information eventually made it to my husband’s boss, who then called my husband, who then called me. Not one single person had contacted me to find out what had happened and if Tommy and I were okay.
Thankfully I have very thick skin and didn’t allow myself to get too upset about the simply lovely trail of misinformation. What I had learned, though, is whom I could trust and a few people who I needed to avoid in the future. I’ve used this story as an example of horrible communication when I’ve taught classes to military family groups, too.
Lessons that I share from this story:
Reach out and get your facts straight before sharing misinformation “out of concern.”
If you’re concerned about what’s going on with someone, talk with that person directly. Don’t pick up a phone and call your husband about your possibly drunk neighbor whose son had not been let off the bus. Get out of your house and meet your neighbors so you can tell them apart on a sunny day.
In today’s more modern age of social media, I would add to not post anything questionable online. And if you see something posted, don’t react in an ugly manner online, either.
Sir Richard Steele once said, “Fire and swords are slow engines of destruction, compared to the tongue of a Gossip.” This is a lesson which I need to remind myself at times, too.
Karin Markert is a photography and writing correspondent for the Herald. A military spouse, she lives at Fort Hood.