Tracing the path of gossip — and learning from it

While we were away on vacation, my son decided to conduct a social experiment.

He is going to tell certain people a specific, detailed story, and he is going to track the way it spreads, based on how the information makes its way back to him. His theory is that there is much to learn about how people talk about people and situations when you study the path that information takes, and how a story morphs as it makes this journey.

As a community lay leader and an elected official, I no longer am shocked by the rumor mill. Unfortunately for all of us, it is much easier to try to influence situations and discredit people with personal gossip than it is actually to debate the important issues at hand. We see this all the way up the ranks, as even the president prefers to tweet about his opponents’ personal lives rather than take on issues of real gravity, issues that once they are debated and fleshed out have the potential to affect real change. Though most complex issues take compromise on both sides to solve, surely this is preferable to mud-slinging in the name of staunchly protecting ideals.

Discourse apparently no longer is on the table in political life. If there is someone whose ideals butt against with our own, instead of working through it like the professionals we were elected to be, many of us take the low road of spreading lies and rumors or worse, threats, to get what we want. Personally, I would rather lose the battle and keep my integrity intact fighting for my values than attack someone’s reputation rather than that person’s ideas. It is my duty as a trusted leader, as well as a human being, to understand that I will be judged on my actions and not on the points I earned for my team.

After hearing my son’s elaborate plan to find the path of information-sharing that gossip can take, I am even more acutely aware that the next generation is watching. Our children learn how to navigate the complexities of debate, dialogue, and hopefully values-based compromise from us. We can teach our children — the next generation of leaders—to fight dirty no matter the cost, or we can teach them to respect everyone, even their opponents, and maintain the chance that they will find common ground for the good of all.

If the government shutdown has taught us anything, I hope it has taught us that name-calling and stubbornness benefits no one. Personal attacks and gossip serve only to degrade important conversations to a level where nothing can be gained and no one comes out clean.

It is my sincere hope that our children will do better than we have in improving peace in the world, but they will have only the tools that we give them. I wake up every day hoping to model for my children how to achieve our goals while maintaining our values, a balance that I hope they struggle far less to realize than I do. I welcome each of you — debate me, challenge me, disagree with me. Help me refine my thinking while working through the important issues that will improve our world. Help me show the next generation that we can disagree with one another and still work toward a better future.


About the Author
Cheryl Rosenberg lives in Englewood, NJ where she is a councilmember representing Ward 1 and a member of Kehilat Kesher Synagogue. Cheryl is the senior director of marketing and communications for Prizmah: Center for Jewish day Schools and is the immediate past president of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. She is an executive board member of Teach NJS, a leadership councilmember of the Jewish New Teach Project, a recent graduate of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program, and a long-time activist in the areas of civil liberties, equality, and women’s rights.