High school never ends

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I once assumed that a positive economic shift would build up the entire community. But now I’m not so sure. The strong ag economy has boosted our towns in many ways. Yet, financial gain spreads gossip about as well as a crowded gymnasium spreads the flu bug. And idle chatter can damage our communities as much as any virus.

I’ve been as guilty of gossip as anyone else. But as I shared in my last column, in recent months I’ve felt convicted to put an end to the negativity coming from my own mouth.

When I hear a juicy tidbit about someone I’m trying my best to respond with, “I don’t believe that’s true.” (Which is another way of saying: I’m not interested in talking about this.) I used to respond with something like, “Oh, really? I had no idea!” (Which is just another way of saying, “I like to hear the dirt, tell me more please.”)

Some years ago we were enjoying our first small measure of success and my husband traded in my vehicle for a Cadillac, surprising me on my birthday. The car was shiny and sporty and looked brand new (it was used). Every male that saw it openly admired it. I liked it too, but I didn’t understand their fawning response to it. I’m not a big ‘car’ person, though. And I think my husband bought that present more for himself than for me.

The first time I drove it to school to pick up the kids my neighbor walked over and motioned to me. I unrolled the window and he whistled in appreciation of my new wheels. Then he threw out the following “Must be nice to have so much money.” His how-you-gonna-respond-to-that-one grin

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was begging me to engage in a verbal assault.

But thankfully I’d eaten my oatmeal that morning. So I simply said, “Oh, it is.”

When he finally recovered (he laughed so hard he had a coughing fit) he just shook his head and gave up, “At least you’re honest.”

And, in all honesty, I drove it for a few years but that car just wasn’t ‘me’. Eventually I traded it in for a Toyota. That move prompted every male in the county to openly chastise me. They all presumed I’d lost my marbles and/or accused me of being anti-American. While status symbols on your hood are easy targets, driving around a small town with a foreign symbol on your hood is the biggest target of all!

I didn’t mind it though. I’ll take a direct attack any day, versus an insult thrown around behind my back. If folks are talking behind my back, I’d rather not even know it. Thousands of years ago King Solomon warned about not paying too much attention to every word other people say, since you may hear someone cursing you; and if you are honest, you’ve cursed others too (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22). But wise as he was, he caved to a desire to be popular with his foreign wives and eventually fell from the faith.

Regarding popularity, there is a song that became popular when I was still young enough to keep up with chart-topping music. The song is called ‘High School Never Ends.’ The lyrics impress upon the listener that no matter how old you are one thing remains the same: your peer group is still (figuratively) stuck in high school, where everyone is vying for homecoming queen/king.

And I think that’s why gossip is so entrenched. We’ve done it ourselves so when someone else starts in we don’t want to offend them by telling them to quit. Plus, seeing another’s flaws seems to lessen our own, and for a little while we seem to be a bit better, and more popular, than another. If we do a good job denigrating the other candidates then we might even be voted queen. The problem being that to feed the ego of a few, the entire community becomes weaker.

If our communities, which have already been weakened by a loss of population, are to rebound and grow stronger, we have to stop viewing our neighbor as our competitor. We can’t care so much about our own popularity, and we should try harder to support, and correct, one another.

Let’s remember the ugly parts of high school and choose to leave those times behind us. And rather than jumping into the shifting sands of temporary economic success, maybe it’s best to hold onto the values and practices which served us well for generations.

So if someone does well and buys themselves a shiny new thing, by all means give them grief about it. Just be sure and say it straight to their face; it’s much more fun that way.

Andrea Beyers lives in Roscoe. Contact her at rocktuff@venturecomm.net