Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rumors Run Rampant

Commentary by Capt. Charles Barrett, 3rd HBCT, 3rd ID

FOB KALSU, Iraq –What’s in a rumor? I’d say two teaspoons of spilt beans, a pinch of boredom, a tablespoon of cold revenge, a dash of hope, 3 cups of embellishment, and an ounce of truth. It’s either a recipe for disaster, or bad clichés - I’m not sure which.

This commentary, or rather this request, is meant to educate and then to enlist your help in quelling rumors during this rotation.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard the rumor that the brigade (3HBCT, 3ID) is coming home after the Iraqi elections early next year? How about the rumor about the brigade being redirected to Afghanistan? Okay, you can lower your hands. If you have heard these or other rumors did you ever stop and wonder where they came from?

Rumors are generated a number of different ways. Perhaps someone was trying to drive a leader and his or her Soldiers away from each other. Perhaps a disgruntled Soldier decided to get back at his unit because he felt wronged, or perhaps the anxiety of the unknown prompted someone to speculate in order to calm their own nerves.

Some rumors spread like wildfire while others sit and fester for a while before taking life. Keep the following things in mind: people often generate rumors out of fear of the unknown; the rumor must be plausible before people will accept it; people who the rumor doesn’t pertain to are less likely to spread it; and rumors lack supporting evidence, unlike news which is always verified through a credible source.

In the book Rumors and Rumor Control: A Manager-s Guide to Understanding and Combating Rumors by Allan J. Kimmel, it says, “In addition to ambiguous, unfamiliar, and unverifiable elements, rumors are generated and transmitted when conditions are emotionally disturbing or fear-arousing for group members. Presumably, the anxiety induced by emotionally unstable situations provides a motivating force for rumor mongering.”

Please don’t confuse rumors with gossip.

“By contrast, rumors can be more clearly distinguished from gossip in that the latter is likely to involve message content that is deemed trivial to the gossips (although probably not to the gossip target), always pertains to people, and is more likely than rumor to have a negative connotation,” Kimmel says in his book.

Rumors, like a zombie apocalypse, start with just one ill-informed rumormonger who infects a handful of others, who in turn infect dozens more until that rumor becomes fact and fact becomes ignored. So how do you stop rumors?

I recommend we all do the following: when the rumor is heard, immediately ask who or what the credible source is. “Oh really? Where did you hear that?” If that person can’t cite a credible source, then it is rumor. Suggest to the individual they do some research before telling anyone else what they’ve heard.

If you say, “This is just a rumor, but…” before telling the rumor, it is less likely to be passed on. However, this is not the preferred method because you’re still spreading the rumor.

Ask the people who should know the facts when presented with a rumor. If for some reason they don’t know, they should be obligated to do the research and provide you with the truth.

Speculating, no matter how innocent it may seem, is the same as a rumor. Speculation is not backed up by fact. It only takes a few hours of information saturation before people accept what they’ve heard as fact.

Beware of exaggeration. Some rumors may be based on fact, but have been embellished. Remember that 67.8 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot, like the one I just wrote.

The bottom line is that rumors are bad and we are the ones who have the ability to make them worse. Luckily for us, we also have the ability to make them go away.

Until next time, these have been my Observations from The Hill: Iraq Edition.

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