There was a story a friend of mine used to tell. When he was in school, his teacher had called the class to attention and said, “There’s something you all should know. One of you has a very unpleasant odor. Please make sure you are washing with soap regularly.” Someone in the class predictably asked who the teacher was talking about. The teacher refused to name the culprit, not wanting to “single anyone out.”
My friend washed himself neurotically the next time he bathed, scrubbing himself raw – and every time after that for several years, worried that it was him.
“I wish she’d just pulled whoever it was aside discreetly,” he said.
How many others in that classroom worried they were the stinky one?
Sometimes vague insinuations have a more negative effect on a group than out-and-out finger pointing. True, a direct accusation has a more devastating effect on the targeted individual, but a nonspecific charge like “one of you smells” can ripple through a group and potentially cause far more mass negativity than a specific criticism.