By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
William Shakespeare said it best (as he did almost everything!) some 400 years ago, when he put something like the following words into one of his immortal plays: “He who steals my purse steals nothing. ’Twas mine, ’tis his, has served a thousand masters. But he who filches from me my good name, steals that which not enriches him, but makes me a poor man indeed.”
Here at Lakeside, this type of theft sometimes reaches alarming proportions, perhaps one price we pay for living in a “paradise.” In our tiny corner of Mexico, news travels swiftly, unfounded gossip even faster.
Yet among people of character and accomplishment (and there are thousands of such people in our midst), such feckless activity is easily shouldered aside. These people are far too busy leading active and productive lives as they quietly go about adding to the culture and beauty of our area, even as they work to improve the lives of those less fortunate amongst the Mexican population.
However, the spreading of unfounded rumors is an act of omission, as well as commission, the former more insidious as it can involve even those who would never engage in the dissemination of malicious gossip.
It goes something like this: you’re at a party, and someone voices a vile and unsubstantiated rumor about a person you greatly respect. Yet rather than challenge the gossip monger, you remain silent. Then, when other people, aware of your friendship with the person under attack, turn to get your opinion, you mutter, “Oh, really? I didn’t know that about him.”
Such cowardly behavior only serves to further validate the rumor, and hence speeds it on its character-crippling way. This type of person is too gutless to stand up for the truth, and indeed usually stands for nothing at all. Yet this response is, if not commendable, at least understandable. Most ex-pats here at Lakeside have already fought the major battles in their lives (I count myself an exception to this rule), and have come to Mexico hoping to live in peace with their neighbors. The last thing they want is to be disliked. So they remain silent, even in the face of callous character assassination.
Many Mexicans, however, are made of different stuff. Among these people, the spreading of hateful gossip is considered a game for fools—an act which they know diminishes the dignity of not only the person defamed, but the purveyor of the rumor, as well.
We foreigners would do well to emulate the behavior of our hosts. But if conscience cannot guide us, there is in Mexico yet another “regulator.” This country has the most stringent slander and defamation laws in much of the Americas. In the U.S. and Canada, a person is often allowed to say anything he pleases about anyone he wishes, regardless of how unfounded or harmful it might be, knowing that even if he’s sued, the case may take years to come to trial. But in Mexico, such words against a private citizen can quickly land their purveyor in jail.
I think the hallowed right of freedom of speech in the U.S. and Canada is often squandered on imbeciles and knaves. Perhaps Mexico, in this one regard, is far more enlightened than its two “freer” neighbor-nations to the north.