Sometimes, talk is not cheap

Published 10:07 pm Friday, April 17, 2009

We live in a small town. Everybody is pretty open about that fact. And, in a small town, people talk.

Maybe it’s because we are genuinely interested in everyone else’s lives. Maybe it’s because gossip and idle chatter is the only part of our youth with which we cannot bring ourselves to part. Or maybe it’s just because, some days, there isn’t much else to do in town.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that people talk. And they tend to talk in public forums on the information super-highway known as the Internet. That’s fine. It’s also a phenomenon about which most everyone is pretty open.

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But there is a word of caution we should all heed. Talk can be dangerous. It can be very, very dangerous. And in a forum in which the idle chatter is forever preserved in print, it can ruin lives.

Hearsay often produces hot rumors on Internet forums that people like to jump in on. Unfortunately, it is often lost that the subjects of these hot rumors are indeed living, breathing, feeling human beings.

Think about that for a minute. What can easily be a thoughtless pastime to us could easily be damaging the character and reputation of someone else.

Now, I understand having conversations about specific incidents, especially when it has already been confirmed that such incidents took place. For instance, it was just over a year ago that word spread that now-former teacher Nathan Hallman had an inappropriate relationship with a student. The obvious and understandable reaction was one of outrage. And the chatter that followed revolved around things like how to avoid such situations. In some cases, the conversation was merely a means of coping with the fact that the event took place in our quaint, happy community. That, too, is understandable.

But what if Hallman had been exhonerated? What if all investigations had determined that he was innocent of wrongdoing? Would we have been good with that? Would his reputation have escaped unscathed enough to allow him to continue to teach and coach in our community? Despite what would have been proven innocence, would he have survived the court of public opinion?

Clearly, none of these things became an issue in his case, as the wheels turned rather quickly and he was soon convicted. But what about the next time someone in a position that mandates high character is accused of something? Will their character be able to survive even the notion that something might have possibly in some alternate universe taken place?

The point is that we have to be careful with jumping the gun and determining someone to be guilty, regardless of whether or not they are proven innocent. After all, what if we were caught in a maelstrom that may not have been of our own design?