Mean Girls

Just last week I included a quote in one of my posts that reflects my feelings towards the assumptions people tend to make about others based on their political affiliations. After receiving some relatively disturbing news this morning, I found a new, completely different way in which this quote relates to my life.

It bares repeating:

“If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions.”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom 
I don't have a lot of relationships with other females because honestly, having relationships with other women is just as annoying as it is hard. In fact, I've always found my relationships with the opposite sex to be much easier to both understand and navigate. Men's simplistic nature is oftentimes portrayed as aloof or lacking to a certain degree, but to their credit, men aren't burdened with half of the problems women tend to create amongst their own gender. How we emotionally-charged, chronically-untrusting, forever-comparing, fanatical creatures manage to outlive men is beyond me.

In high school I had 3 of the most fun, most amazing girlfriends a teenager could ask for and for the duration of my formative years, they were truly my soul mates. However, we almost completely destroyed our little foursome from the inside out by our continuous need to talk about one another behind her respective back. Sometimes our idle chitchat came from a malicious place (though incredibly rarely), but most often our backstabbing was spurred by a complete lack of anything better to do which, in my opinion, is the root of all gossip: Pathetic people with nothing exciting going on in their own lives. No matter how sophisticated we thought we were and no matter how closely our appearance reflected that of adulthood, we still very much had the mentality of immature, petty 17 year-old girls.

But then we grew up and now we know better, right?


But not usually.

Towards the end of my college days and at the genesis of my professional career, I thought I had finally escaped the entrapment of gossip. I had a solid group of friends that didn't feel the need to dig into a negative place in order to find something amusing and engaging to talk about. After being cut deeply so many times myself, I was well-versed in the havoc that gossip could wreak on both relationships and self-esteem. Gossip burns and I was done playing with matches.

Am I still guilty of gossiping occasionally? Absolutely. You're only kidding yourself if you think you're immune to the behavior. It happens from time to time. Gossip is a compulsory bonding agent and a very unfortunate facet of human nature. There's a very fine line between commiserating and straight-out bitching about someone, and one thing that separates the comisserators from the bitches is a guilty conscience.

I have an extremely guilty conscience as well as the innate ability to know when I'm crossing a line even before I actually cross it. Those plagued with a guilty conscience have a heightened sense of awareness and intuition because hey, we're constantly paranoid that we'll be found out.

At my previous job I got sucked into a web of gossip that seemed relentless. Working with a group of 20-something women is dangerous territory because girls, by nature, want to form cliques and seek out companionship. And what brings gals together quicker than a sampler platter of cheesecake?

A mutual dislike of another woman. 

I never disliked any of the women I worked with, but I quickly got the sense that I wasn't well-liked by all of them. And that was fine with me because there wasn't any rule written in the employee handbook that says you have to be BFFs with your female co-workers and braid each other’s hair during lunch breaks. I wasn't stupid. I wasn't naive enough to believe that my personality would magically mesh with everyone else's, nor did I expect everyone else's personalities to mesh with mine. But on the surface we all seemed to get along swimmingly and we always remained professional.

In a perfect world, everyone would instantly love everybody all the time, no matter what, just like Jesus did. But as a society we are not very Christlike at all. The phenomenon of reality TV is proof enough of that.

When I announced that I was leaving the company, I didn't make it a huge secret why I was leaving. I spoke with my boss very candidly, explaining to her that our department's morale was bringing me down both professionally and personally. I didn't like the person I was when I was there and some days it was hard to even recognize myself. All of my years of trying to reach the trifecta of self-restraint, personal growth, and maturity fully regressed in less than 9 months.

I gave into the temptation of gossip and negativity more often than I am proud to admit, and I let my general unhappiness in the workplace lead me down the path of least resistance: ceaseless bitching. I needed an exit strategy, and I needed it quickly.

My last day with the company ended on bad terms. The worst of terms, actually. After a day chalk-full of little digs, I felt attacked and made the unwise decision to retaliate ... on the internet of all places. A co-worker made a jab at me online and I fired back. Then, in a state of painfully raw vulnerability, I watched in horror as my fellow co-workers and "friends" sacrificed me to the social media gods. And it was so unfair. So damn unfair. These people didn't see my aggressor's initial comment; they only saw my retaliation that unfortunately wasn't granted the same convenience of deletion. Nor did they see any of the events leading up to my aggressor's comment in the first place. They saw only what their ignorant, assuming eyes wanted to see, not the truth.

If I was already leaving my previous job with a bad taste in my mouth, I completed my last day with the taste of a thousand pounds of sun-baked road kill on my tongue. I wanted to say adios, good riddance, and embark on a much deserved defriending and unfollowing social media spree. I silently gave the whole internet my middle finger and strolled along on my merry way to a new beginning.

Then I remembered that I have a guilty conscience. Actually, my guilty conscience reminded me of its existence with its unrelenting knocking inside of my skull at inopportune times during the day and even when I tried to fall asleep at night. I didn't feel guilty because I inadvertently tarnished relationships, I actually couldn't have cared less about losing those "friendships", but I was miserable because whether I liked it or not, my internet retaliation pegged me as one of the girls behaving badly. Whether I started it (or finished it) or not, I still participated.

It didn't matter how justified I felt in standing up for myself because by saying anything at all, I provoked my own internet lynching. It didn't matter that I wasn't the initial mean girl because a mean girl is a mean girl is a mean girl. As hurt as both my feelings and pride were, I knew I delivered a punch of my own and I would never be able to feel okay about myself until I made it right.

Or at least tried to make it right.

After a lot of internal debate and after bouncing the idea off of my husband for over an hour, I finally sat down at my computer and wrote a letter to my aggressor. I didn't take responsibility for the whole incident because it wasn't all my responsibility to take, but I owned my part of chaos and expressed my regret and desire for forgiveness.

That person never bothered to respond to me, but I'm perfectly okay with that. I said my piece, I owned what was mine, I made it right with God, and whatever is leftover is no longer my issue to deal with. I never expected an apology back because I learned from a very early age that people are never going to behave how you want them too (this entire situation being exhibit A). While I know I deserve an apology in return, I don't need to hear a few magic words in order to forgive. I already do, whether that person likes it or not.

Then I could finally breathe easier ...

... until this morning, anyway.

This morning I caught wind that someone is still running a smear campaign against me. Apparently I did some vicious, horrible things to this person that I have absolutely no memory of. I know with 100% certainty that there were other people who said those things about that individual, but the efforts weren't spearheaded by me. I was guilty by association.

And once again, that is unfair. So damn unfair.

But I guess that's the price you pay when you choose to gossip, even once. Even if you think that your participation is innocent and "Oh, I know where to draw the line" or "I didn't say the worst of it!", it doesn't matter. Once a gossip, always a gossip in the eyes of the angry mob. Gossip is a badge you wear like a glimmering scarlet "G" sewn onto your lapel.

But I'm sure this individual is fully justified in talking about me in such a way because I am just positive that they have never once said anything bad about anyone in their entire life. Never. Pure as the driven snow.

I find it bothersome that a false pretense about me is still circulating amongst this small group of people ... but only to an extremely miniscule extent. I mean, I think it would be abnormal if it didn't bother me. But knowing this information isn't throwing me to the floor and knocking the wind out of me like the last time. Why? Because I'm slowly trying to inch my way back towards the trifecta of self-restraint, personal growth and maturity.

The opinions of others aren't the foundation of my self-worth, and in my ripe, old age of 27 I'm finally starting to realize that I don't have to scream and kick when others can't see the truth. I don't have to try desperately to shove it down their throats in an effort to clear my name, a name that shouldn't have even been muddied in the first place. I know the truth. And God knows the truth. And God knows it hurts my feelings when others speak ill about me, so it's His place to take care of it. Not mine.

But seriously, I'm not that interesting to talk about. Really, I'm not. I like to run and burn cookies in my crappy oven, that's about it. There are so many more important things going on in the world other than the things you think I said or did once. Seriously, let it go. The world is full of disease, suffering, heartache, poverty, and millions of people around the globe aren't even close to having an iota of the freedoms we take for granted every day. If you ask me, that kind of stuff takes slightly higher precedence over this ridiculous garbage. Your name isn't my mouth, so my name shouldn't be in yours.