Everyone Says So
Often you hear: "Everybody's saying it, so it must be true." Not necessarily. Sometimes false rumors, when presented as "facts" can fool us into misjudging people and situations. And our misjudgments can have unpleasant consequences. The Torah describes how the Jewish people were preparing to go into the land of Israel and begin living there as God had directed them to do. In advance, Moses sent out a group of meraglim, "scouts," to go into the land and report back. But when they returned, almost all of these scouts chose to distort the facts and gave negative reports about what they had seen there. This scared the people into refusing to believe God's promise that they would be secure in their going into the Land. The consequence of the people's panic and near rebellion was that they had to experience many unpleasant events, and were not privileged to come in and settle the land for almost another 40 years. God wants us to think independently and not be swept up into simply believing that the rumors we hear are true facts just because "everyone says so."
In our story malicious rumors almost spoil a girl's summer vacation.
It was the last day of school! Janet Goldman was flying high as she cleaned out her desk and locker. True, her body was still in school but her mind, like that of most of the kids, was definitely already in summer vacation-land.
She didn't think twice as she quickly gathered all of the "end-of-the year" notices everyone had been handed on their way out. Skimming over them she saw her next year's homeroom assignment: "Mrs. Walters - Room 212" written in the upper left hand corner of the page. With a fun-filled summer between her and the next school year, the name and room number didn't have much significance.
That is until she started to hear "the rumors." It seemed everywhere she turned, Janet kept hearing about this Mrs. Walters who would be new at her school the coming year.
"The meanest teacher in her old school" ... "She had to leave where she was because she was so mean!" ... "Everyone who had her last year was miserable!"
At first Janet tried to ignore the rumors. But after a while she started to tell herself, "If everybody's saying it, it must be true." She began to panic.
As the summer progressed and the school year loomed nearer, Janet grew consumed with worry and came to dread her encounter with the new teacher. She started to form a picture of the teacher in her mind; a big, stern-looking, older woman with a heavy cane that she would angrily bang on the desk of any student who dared to breathe wrong.
Janet would almost shiver as she imagined how in a few short weeks she was going to become a virtual prisoner to this "meanest teacher in the whole school."
Finally, the dreaded day arrived. The first day of school! Janet was shaking as she got off the bus. Even though she was a few minutes early and the homeroom bell hadn't rung yet, Janet forced herself towards the classroom. "At least I don't want to be punished for being late," she told herself.
She inched down the second-floor corridor glancing at the room numbers. 208 ... 210 ... and finally, 212.
Janet gingerly opened the door expecting the worst. "Phew!" she gasped, relieved. "The teacher isn't here yet." There were just a few girls sitting in the back corner of the classroom chatting with a petite, pleasant-looking young woman.
Janet was about to return to her panic of waiting for the big old mean teacher to arrive, when the young woman caught her eye and with a smiled beckoned her over. "Welcome to Homeroom 212," she said cheerfully. "I can see from the fact that you came early that you're a serious student. My name is Mrs. Walters, what's yours?" she asked.
Janet froze in shock, but after a brief moment, she regained her composure, feeling relaxed by the woman's warm smile. "Uh, uh, Janet ... Goldman," she stammered out.
As the school year progressed Janet found Mrs. Walters to be one of the nicest teachers she ever had, and felt so silly about how she had let some dumb rumors practically ruin her entire summer.
Q. How did Janet feel when she heard the bad rumors about her new teacher?
A. At first she tried not to believe them but afterwards she started to feel scared that they were really true since everybody else was repeating them.
Q. How did she feel after she met the new teacher?
A. She saw that the teacher was really nice and what everybody had been saying wasn't true. She was sorry that she had believed the rumors and let them ruin her summer.
Q. Why do you think that false rumors get started in the first place?
A. There could be a number of reasons. For one, people sometimes feel embarrassed to say they don't know anything about a certain topic. They would rather make something up rather than admit they don't know -- and a rumor is born. Sometimes a person may have a personal desire to "get back" at somebody, so they start a rumor, which of course is the wrong thing to do. For instance, it could be that there was one former student of Mrs. Walters who was justifiably disciplined by her and decided to start unkind rumors as revenge. For all of these reasons we should be very careful not to believe everything we hear.
Q. How could Janet have reacted to the rumors that she heard about the teacher in a way that would have saved her from the stress she experienced?
A. Firstly, she could have told herself that most rumors are not true, and even those that have some truth to them are often exaggerated. Also, she could have tried to give the teacher the benefit of the doubt and assume that she would be nice until proven otherwise. At the same time, she could have prepared for the "worst," -- that what she heard would be true -- by calmly thinking of strategies to stay on the teacher's good side. Finally, she could remind herself that all situations, even difficult ones, are given to us by God for our own good, to learn and grow from.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Would you say that it is reasonable to believe everything that is reported in the news as being totally true? Why or why not?
A. There is a tendency to believe everything we hear in the news. However, quite often one is only receiving information that is being interpreted by those reporting it. News reporters are only human and are liable to misunderstand what they have seen or heard, and inadvertently (or even intentionally) present facts and pictures in a way which supports their own beliefs. Bearing this in mind, a discerning consumer of news reports will treat them almost like any other "rumor," neither disregarding nor accepting them completely. It's wise to keep our minds open before jumping to any conclusions.
Q. Janet didn't really know what to expect when she would meet up with her new teacher. The sages teach us that whenever we encounter someone new we should "Respect them yet be cautious." How do you understand this idea?
A. When we meet someone new it is easy to have mixed feelings. On the one hand, we want to be open and friendly. But on the other hand, until we get to know someone well, we can't be sure whether he or she is trustworthy or not. By following the sage's advice of treating the people we meet in a friendly and courteous manner, yet at the same time keeping our eyes open, we allow ourselves the chance to get to know them well enough to decide how close we want to be.