The Snake That Poisons Everybody


This is the 35th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

It topples governments, wrecks marriages, ruins careers, busts reputations, causes heartaches, nightmares, indigestion, spawns suspicion, generates grief, dispatches innocent people to cry in their pillows.
Even its name hisses.
It’s called gossip.
Office gossip.
Shop gossip.
Party gossip.
It makes headlines and headaches.
Before you repeat a story, ask yourself:
Is it true?
Is it fair?
Is it necessary?
If not, shut up.

I’d love to see what Harry Gray would have written today in the age of the Internet, given the ease with which gossip can spread, and how authoritative someone can make his or her viewpoint appear.

Instead of shutting up, as Harry Gray has suggested, the Internet gives people a platform from which they can shout their opinions (gossip) to the world.

I just wrote about this issue a little over a week ago, and suggested that before you post something to Facebook or Twitter, you take a moment to check your facts.

While the Internet¬†makes it easy to spread false info, it also makes it relatively easy to check the accuracy of what you read or what you are about to post. If it doesn’t sound right, then do a little bit of research to verify the story for yourself.

Then comes the hard part, at least for me.

If you come across a false or misleading post on Facebook or Twitter, what is the proper etiquette?

Do you publicly let the poster know that his or her post is not true, do you let the person know privately, or do you simply ignore it?

My response varies by the individual who made the post, but the vast majority of the time I simply ignore the post. The reason for doing so is my sense that the type of person who probably posted such a falsehood likely doesn’t care about the truth, and would gladly engage in an argument with you about the matter, and likely support their position with additional rumors.

So I’ll repeat what I’ve said previously; before you post something to the Internet, check your facts.

If you are too lazy to do so, then as Harry Gray says, shut up.

If it turns out to be untrue or an unsubstantiated rumor, then shut up.

If it’s not fair or necessary, then shut up.

If your post passes these tests, then feel free to share your thoughts with the world.

But one final request before doing so, be kind.


One thought on “The Snake That Poisons Everybody

  1. Thank you for awesome history on this wonderful Article. This was passed out in my Office early 80’s; the Company that passed it out should have heeded as they went defunct. Overall they forgot “The Golden Rule”! Learned from it: people who gossip have no life, live their life through others and are very unhappy people. If, owned a Company would make everyone read and sign a copy and put in their file. Even Norman Rockwell did an Artwork piece on “Gossipers”! For years looked for it and now see people have posted (that’s how found you). I also liked “Get Rid of the Girl”; then there was one on “If, You Ever Get Discouraged”=synopsis on Abraham Lincoln.
    P.S. Churches should also pass out to their congregants.


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