We’ve all done it.

We’ve all talked about someone behind their back. We’ve shared the dirt. We’ve passed along the gossip. We’ve raised the alarm at the first sign of smoke without smelling the fire. It’s human nature, you might say.

To defend our bad behavior we make excuses like, “It’s a small town. Everyone knows everyone’s business.” That makes it okay. Wrong. We think we know. Sometimes we’re right. Most times we’re wrong.

And we’ve forgotten the point: it’s not our business, one way or the other.

Lately, I have been on the receiving end of much gossip – everything from divorces to affairs, to petty talk about people’s parenting styles and the time-honoured judgments of sexual impropriety (salacious innuendo without fact gets them every time).

Some of it is true. Some of it is pure speculation. All of it is damaging. But the point is, it ends with me. I won’t turn the rumour mill. Like the sign says, “If they’re talking to you, they’re talking about you.” Karma, baby.

We forget when we turn on each other, the ripple effect is so much grander than the target of our talk. In my experience, those that throw the first stone in the water are those with the most to hide. In a community where we are so connected, by choice and by circumstance, the current of our whispers causes more than a drop in the river. It sets off a swell of betrayals and biases unfounded. It takes one wave to set more in motion. And like any river, there is always the potential to flood neighbourhoods and put lives under water.

I have been there for friends when they’ve made choices I didn’t like, because I believe loyalty is the ultimate testament of friendship. I’ve kept secrets that could blackmail souls because, unless someone is in harm’s way, the point of keeping a secret is to shut up. Even when choices have caused me to walk away from toxic situations, I will not be a party to hurting them now. I have no right. There is no one way to live, love or learn. Yet, there is one easy way to hurt.

For me, trust is paramount. I have misplaced it many times in the hands of false friends. My true friends benefit from knowing they are safe to be themselves with me, always, and that I will have their back. It’s a small circle that I spin in, and trust is the reason. The beauty of my friends is that they have my back too. When they hear smack talk about me, I know it and we stand up to it together.

I have no idea what goes on in other people’s lives, bedrooms or minds – nor should I. I’m too busy living my own life. We all fake happy well, so I don’t know who is struggling with finances, mental health issues or abusive behaviours. But I do know that if I’m gossiping about it and someone needs help because their home isn’t safe, they are never going to trust me if I’m all over town spreading implications.

There is a difference between paying attention and speculating. Good neighbours know the difference. Yes, we live in small towns, which means everyone knows the damage we can cause each other. Be careful with your words. Families are at stake.