Gossip Is Like The Cat In The Hat’s Bathtub Ring


Picture courtesy of Dr. Seuss. Words courtesy of me.

The next time I’m tempted to repeat some juicy gossip, I need to remind myself that it might leave a stain that is harder to clean than the Cat In The Hat’s bathtub ring.

I went to dinner with a friend one evening, and on the way out of the restaurant I stopped to chat with an old acquaintance I’ll call Dan.  He’s a respected businessman, now retired, who was dining with his wife and another couple.

After I left the table and caught up with my friend, she whispered, “Do you know what I heard about Dan?” I shook my head. I didn’t know what she had heard, but I was certainly eager to hear it.

“My friend Sue used to work with Dan,” she continued, “and she said he cheated on his wife constantly. She said he screwed anything in a skirt.”

I was shocked – genuinely shocked.  That wasn’t the Dan I knew. He was a pillar of the community, active in his church and someone I had liked and admired for 25 years. Could it be true? Could I have been so wrong about him?

I had been eager to gobble up this juicy bit of gossip but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I wished I hadn’t heard it.

I thought about it all the way home.   What if it were true?  What if it were NOT true?  How would I know? I couldn’t very well ask him.  Merely hearing this once meant I was going to carry around this newfound, bad impression of him from then on, with no way to either confirm or disprove it.

If my friend (who is not a malicious person by any means) was spreading this story, so were others.  Gossip spreads faster than a flu epidemic, and can be just as dangerous.  And the gotcha gleam in our eyes shines brighter the more virtuous the subject is held to be, and the more sordid the news.  Why do we get such delight in knocking someone off a pedestal?

What was the benefit of hearing this about Dan? It certainly didn’t help him any.  And what did I gain from the information?  Is it a good thing to know all of a person’s failings or does it just damage us, the listeners, to have yet another illusion shattered?

This question is especially important now, during election season.  We need to know a lot about the candidates so we can take the measure of the man or woman – morals and character do matter.  But do we need/deserve to know EVERYthing?

I decided I wasn’t going to pass the “news” item about Dan on to anyone else. I was going to bite my tongue if it killed me.   What did I do as soon as I walked in my front door?  I blurted to my hubby, Bill, “Have you heard about Dan???”

I was mainly seeking reassurance, but my motives probably weren’t entirely pure.  Delivering big news makes the teller feel big as well; the greater the shock-value, the bigger the reflected importance.  No doubt some of that motivation prompted my unplanned blurt.

Bill delivered reassurance.  “I don’t believe it,” he said without hesitation.  “I’ve known Dan most of my life, and I have never heard even a whisper of a rumor. You know in a town of this size there’s no way something like that wouldn’t have made the rounds if it were true.  He is a decent man – I would bet on it.”

In this case, telling Bill turned out to be a good thing because he set my mind at ease. But that is far from the usual result of retelling a malicious tale about someone else.

The story about Dan reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. The Cat came to play on a day when Sally and her brother were home alone. He caused all sorts of mischief, took a bath in their tub and left a big, pink bathtub ring. The Cat tried to clean it, but all he did was spread the stain. Soon the bed, Mother’s good dress, and all the snow in the yard looked like they were casualties of a Pepto-Bismol war.  It took special Cat in The Hat magic “Voom” to finally clean it up.

That’s how gossip is.  Once started, it spreads faster and farther than the Cat’s pink bathtub ring and, in the end, even a whole hat full of  “Voom” won’t clean the stain left behind.

One of the many pearls of wisdom my mother used to cast before us, her little swine, has stuck with me all my life.  She asked us to imagine climbing to the top of the tallest mountain, ripping open a pillow and letting the wind scatter the feathers to the four corners of the world.  It is easier, she cautioned, to collect up each and every scattered feather than it is to take back words said in anger.  That also applies to gossip and all the other words we would be better off not saying.

The next time I’m tempted to listen to and/or repeat gossip I need to remember that someone’s good reputation may be at stake.  That is something that is both valuable and vulnerable, and it’s almost impossible to retrieve once someone lets the cat out of the bag.

Or so I’ve heard.

About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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61 Responses to Gossip Is Like The Cat In The Hat’s Bathtub Ring

  1. notquiteold says:

    You’re so right. Gossip makes us gossipers feel important. For about one second. But that one second is so hard to resist.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Old Hank had it right years and years ago; 1952. Written by Bonnie Dodd.


  3. susielindau says:

    It’s human nature to want to know what is going on. It’s clan survival instinct. But going to the Heidi Klum level of malicious gossip is an endorphin rush. Believe me, I’ve been on both ends and I’m done with it.

    One thing about cancer, I’ve learned the life is short and time is precious. I’ve cut my ties with rumor-mongers. Even though my life is a lot quieter, not being sucked into the latest scandal has been so blissful. And no one can talk about me!


  4. Jain says:

    There are those who spread rumors because it’s what they do. But damn, if Dan is a cheater, I would want to know about it, as his wife. I mean, even amidst the rumor mills, there is always (always) something that gets a rumor to the place it is. See, truth is in there somewhere. It doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that Dan is a good person and good friend to you, but that does NOT mean he is a good husband.


    • pegoleg says:

      Definitely, if I am that wife I want to know about my own husband.

      I agree that there is something that sparks the rumor, but disagree that that spark is always or even usually truth. The spark can often be misunderstanding, innuendo or downright lying to get back at someone.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reminds me of a book we had in grade school about a hen who lost a feather. By the end of the story, the hen was nothing but a plucked chicken. Rumors escalate.


  6. A serious and thought-provoking missive! I hate to say this but the pillars of the community who are active in the church get into hot water more often than you think. It’s no barometer for good behavior. I’m sure not in this case, but those guys are always turn out to be a little too perfect.

    Gossip has always been around but the likes of TMZ and the evening fluff entertainment programs have made it a particularly dark period for spreading maliciousness. Much like your mom’s metaphor, mine used to tell me that I can’t un-ring a bell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pegoleg says:

      You’re right – gossip is big-money entertainment, isn’t it?

      The part about pillars of the church getting into hot water is exactly what I meant when I said we especially delight in knocking people off pedestals. Some who go to church and try to live a moral life are total fakes, it’s true. But is someone a hypocrite because they don’t always live up to the ideals they espouse? Are the ideals less valuable because they are difficult to reach? Should none of us ever strive to live a good life and lead by example since, as mortal men, we are all weak and might fail?

      I am trying to be more aware of the log in my own eye before I criticize someone else for the speck in their eye, and geez Louise, is it hard.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Carrie Rubin says:

    Well said. There have been recent snippets that gossip can be good for us in a social bonding way, but I don’t really buy it. Too much hurt can happen as a result. Best to keep our lips mum. That being said, I think politicians are fair game to gossip about, at least to your spouse. The current campaign season has made nightly dinner conversations in my home quite fun. Even teens sons get into it.


  8. Al says:

    Gossip is juicy as juicy can be,
    Thinking it’s just between you and me.
    But sure as the first word of gossip is sown,
    It takes on a vibrant life of its own.

    We love to hear it and tell it as well,
    Not thinking how hard it might be to quell.
    But oh, the shame those whispers create
    ‘Cause even when false, they carry much weight.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Colline says:

    Gossip is a dangerous thing and the cause of many teenage suicides I fear. The worst is when the gossip is based on lies.


  10. lexiemom says:

    So true! As Thumper’s father so wisely taught him, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all!”


  11. Rareity says:

    The weight a rumor like that has over a person …. Yikes! And once you know, the guilt even though it’s not yours to carry eats you up.


  12. rekasg says:

    Ohmy, and they usually come with a disclaimer “Don’t tell anyone else!”


  13. The Cutter says:

    But the world needs gossips! After all, isn’t Helen Lovejoy the true hero of the Simpsons?


  14. Dana says:

    I like this song by Dean Martin. The rumor about him drinking too much was actually not true and made up, just for jokes!


  15. You’re right that sharing gossip does make that person feel bigger. This often happens at my office — rumors swirl with no basis in the truth. People embellish and exaggerate. But then what does the person do with that information? It’s an endless cycle. Sometimes it feels like a pressure cooker!

    Great post, Peg!


    • pegoleg says:

      We were talking in my office yesterday about a guy who used to live upstairs who was just arrested for dealing heroin. I wonder if we were exchanging local news about someone we knew, or gossiping? Is the difference the little thrill of excitement we get at the telling? Hard to know.


  16. judithhb says:

    Good question about the difference between gossiping and exchanging news. When is gossip really gossip. Oh and by the way Peg have you heard about Bill Bloggs and Jane Doe?


  17. Gossip is juicy and we are all tempted by it. That is the one thing I can’t take when I was working. All the rumors and talking behind people’s backs. I would just tell myself I am there to do my job not get caught up in personal drama. It’s very freeing. But it’s always hard not to make snap judgments about people so I try to put myself in their shoes.


  18. This is a wonderful post, Peg. Gossip is sort of like eating junk food. Tastes great but leaves you with guilt and a belly ache. My mother showed me by example what a serene life you could have if you didn’t judge or talk about people behind their backs. I’m not perfect, but do try to avoid it. There are always two sides to every story and the old game ‘gossip’ showed us how the story changed with each telling.


  19. It’s very hard to resist the temptation to gossip. I’ve really tried to be wary of continuing any conversations that start with ‘Have you heard about Dan?’ I’ve gotten better about declining to hear gossip, although I’ll admit to still being a bit of an eavesdropper of other tables.


  20. What is it about gossip (the bad stuff, never the good, right?)? After my husband left me, I had a friend who was the pastor of the church he belonged to. She would call me up ostensibly to see how I was doing, but eventually she would fill me in on some bit of gossip about my husband or his family–always snarky stuff. I was trying my best to forgive the son-of-a-bitch for ditching me (like a good Buddhist) and this Methodist preacher and gossip queen wasn’t helping. I finally gently asked her to stop telling me about him and his family. Guess what? She stopped calling me altogether! Sheesh!


  21. Some people use information like coins in trade. Ugly power trip or makes them feel their info is their key to being in a group. Many would not know truth if it whacked them up side of the head.
    I’d rather not know than have to decide what to do with it once I’ve heard it.
    This whole modern era of scandals enchanting people is disgusting


    • pegoleg says:

      I like the idea of “coins in trade” – that’s what it is for some, isn’t it? They say knowledge is power, so it can be bought and sold.

      I think it’s human nature to be interested in scandal, but most people used to want to hide their shameful behavior – not get famous for it on reality TV. Very distasteful.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Elyse says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post since you wrote it Peg. Because I’ve been haunted for 30 years because I didn’t believe the rumors.

    In the eighties, I had three very close friends. Two were married to each other, and the third was his secretary. We were all pals — and all young and constantly making dirty jokes, constantly being provocative. We were young and stupid. Wild, but I thought all morally correct. There were rumors that the man and his secretary were having an affair. I chose not to believe it. I just didn’t believe they would. But the rumors were true. The wife thought I had known and didn’t want to be friends with me. I didn’t want to be friends with the man and the secretary because, well, …

    In retrospect, I still don’t know what I would have done had I believed it, or if I just didn’t want to believe it. They had kids…


  23. Elyse says:

    Oops–I didn’t meant that your friend is guilty! Sorry, I got carried away.


    • pegoleg says:

      No, I didn’t take it that way. Yours is an interesting dilemma. I don’t know if I would tell my friend about the infidelity – those are tricky. I’ve heard most people end up shooting the messenger because they don’t want to know. I’ve never heard of someone shooting the non-messenger.

      Jeez, human beings are messy, aren’t they?

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Excellent article! Thanks x


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