After writing a few articles about my firstborn who is now a college freshman, an obviously curious reader e-mailed me asking why my daughter was taking up a vocational course. I said she wasn’t and explained that A.B. Photography is a regular college course. But there’s no such thing, she said. Yes, there is, I replied, and she’ll finish it in nine trimesters spread over three years. But that’s impossible, she insisted, and the fact that it’s a three-year course proves that it is a vocational course because regular college courses take four to five years to finish. I had lost my patience at the point and deemed it best to end the e-mail exchange by not replying.
I would have forgotten about it, and her, were it not for another e-mail that I received a few days later from yet another reader. According to this second reader, the first reader e-mailed “a couple of people” with the “scoop” that “Sassy Lawyer couldn’t afford to send her kid to college so the poor girl is attending a vocational school instead.” I cocked an eyebrow for a second then decided to drop the whole thing altogether. There really isn’t any point in arguing with a clueless person who is clueless about her own cluelessness. I told the second reader to ignore her because her clueless opinions – gossip, actually – won’t change facts.
That series of online conversations made me recall the jeweler who made our wedding bands almost eighteen years ago. She was a gossipy woman who had been doing my mother’s jewelry for years. Since I knew no other custom jeweler, I told my husband-to-be about her and we decided to give her the job of executing our wedding bands. As with most gossipy people, she was more than curious about our wedding plans and asked how many guests we were inviting. Just family, I told her, about fifteen people in all. Oh, she said, is that how it’s done when the bride is an old maid? Now, that was the first time I heard myself referred to as an old maid. I had just turned 28 and, in my circle of lawyer girl friends, I was actually the first one to get married.
Then, the woman started relaying, without any provocation nor encouragement from my mother nor I, how her own daughter married at just the right age and who, at 21, already had two children. The bitchy side of me surfaced and, with an eyebrow raised queried, “Did she finish college? Is she a lawyer?” But she just went on and on about how girls who aren’t married before they are 20 are, in fact, old maids. And I almost socked her and had the wedding bands job done elsewhere had my mother not given me a look that clearly said, “Huwag mo na patulan (Don’t dignify it with an answer).”
Looking back, I think that I might have totally misread the jeweler in thinking she was being bitchy. Perhaps, she wasn’t. It’s just that, in her circle of friends and family, it was the accepted standard that a girl married before she was twenty. And she was just expressing her firm belief and there was no malice involved. The curious thing is that this jeweler who was also doing jobs for a lot of women in my mother’s office found the time and opportunity to tell everyone else that their boss’s old maid daughter was getting married and she was doing the wedding bands. Was there no malice in that too?
Corollarily, was there no malice involved when the reader who insists that photography is a vocational course went out of her way to e-mail “a couple of people” about her conclusion that “Sassy Lawyer couldn’t afford to send her kid to college so the poor girl is attending a vocational school instead?” I have nothing against vocational and non-degree courses. Before learning that there was one school offering a bachelor’s degree course in Photography, I was actually encouraging my daughter to take up the one-year course in Film School in Cebu (popularly called Bigfoot) but she felt that, at 16, she was too young to be in the company of the much older students there. But if she had chosen not to go to college, it isn’t something I would be ashamed to admit. Shame doesn’t even figure in the equation. But for a total stranger to screw up the facts based on her own lack of information is something else.
We can’t change human nature, I suppose. Some even look at it — gossip — as part of the dynamics of human society. A person comes across what he or she considers to be a juicy piece of information and he or she finds it impossible to contain it. There is that awful aching need to tell another and another and yet another. And this awful aching need manifests itself in many ways and forms – as mass media, as Web logs, as Twits and Plurks, as shared links in Facebook and as good old gossip passed by one neighbor to another ad infinitum. And there is never any lack of people willing to act as receptacles and who, in turn, will pass on what information or rumor they received to other willing receptacles and so on, and so forth.
The wise person will first try to determine whether the information is in the form of a prediction, projection, innuendo, and whether or not it was learned through the grapevine, before deciding to repeat it to someone else. But how many actually bother doing that? What about the clueless who can’t tell the difference?