The Evil of Exaggeration and Gossip
Four well-known, intimate, universally loved friends, A, B, C, and D, lived in a good-sized prosperous village. As time went on A became ill and the village was agog with the rumor that A, during his severe spell of indigestion, expelled the contents of his stomach and that four little dark crows flew out of his mouth and winged their way into invisibility behind the blue vaults of heaven.
By and by this rumor about A and the crows reached the ears of D. To verify the strange rumor, and in great excitement, D went to several village officers and asked about it. They all vehemently declared that they were positive that four crows flew out of A’s mouth during his ailment.
Curious, but disbelieving and dissatisfied, D went to his friend C and said, “Friend, rumor has it that A disgorged four crows out of his mouth. Is that true?” C laughed and laughed, and after the echo of his laughter subsided, replied, “My, how people exaggerate. Our friend A only sent forth three crows out of his mouth.”
Hearing this, D thought to himself, “Well, I have boiled down the rumor to three crows. Now, let me inquire of B, who lives near A’s home.” When D found B and questioned him about the three crows that A was said to have expelled from his mouth, B nearly became hysterical with laughter and said, “My how people can froth and swell up things. Why, A only expelled two crows during his sick spell.”
More skeptical than ever, D thought to himself, “I have reduced the number of crows from four to two — now let me go to A himself and get from him the facts regarding the “two-crow” story. D met A in his home, and as soon as A heard about the four or three or two crows he was rumored to have expelled, he was beside himself with laughter. He fell from his chair and rolled on the floor with merriment.
After A had his fill of laughter, he sat on the chair again and said to D, “Friend D, I never dreamed that anyone could develop such an exaggerated yarn, so strange and unrelated to everyday facts.
“Well, my friend, here are the facts. I was walking near an open drain when I became ill with indigestion and expelled two black things at the edge of the drain, which rebounded and disappeared in the drain. B was passing by with a few people at that time and, hearing me violently coughing said, ‘What is the matter with you?’
“I replied, ‘Something strange just happened. I was severely ill with indigestion and expelled the contents of my stomach, and two dark things flew out of my mouth and disappeared from my sight.’ Later, I remembered that I had eaten too many dark mushrooms, which had caused my sick spell.
“I can see that B, in his excitement, heard that two dark things flew out of my mouth, and his imagination transformed the two mushrooms into two gloomy crows, winging their way into invisibility. When C heard this story from B, in his excitement and to convince unbelieving ears, he increased the number of crows from two to three. The gullible, gossip-loving villagers were not satisfied with the story of three crows but emphatically asserted that I, during my ailment, expelled four crows, which vanished into thin air.”
This story fittingly illustrates how people love to exaggerate. People love to believe the impossible and to exaggerate upon it, for it satisfies their hunger for weird, mysterious happenings. Man becomes tired of this prosaic world, so he enjoys living in the domain of fancy. Some men and women live so completely in the domain of fancy that they are not aware that their love of exaggeration gives birth to abject lies. Such people cease to behold the demarcation line between truth and falsehood.
There may be some facts in a rumor or a piece of gossip. If you want to know the truth about anything, find out what started the rumor. Someone has said: “Give a lie a twenty-five minute start and it will become immortal.”
It is best to combat lies by loud or silent protest, as the case demands. Although exaggeration and false accusations may be based on something factual, those accused may be entirely different from what people have been told. People lose faith in someone who has exaggerated, as soon as the complete truth is uncovered.
From the Praecepta Lessons, 1938.