We deal with gossip every day, either on the distribution or receiving side of it. Tabloid-type-talk is everywhere—the workplace, schools, at the grocery checkout, news stories, emails, Face Book, and bible studies—let’s face it, wherever two or more are gathered there is potential for talking about someone not present. You have probably heard the line in Steel Magnolias when Clairee says, “Well, you know what they say: if you don’t have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me!” Sometimes, we are not the gossiper; instead, we partake by soaking up all the juicy details, departing with a clear conscience since we do not intend to tell anyone else. But let’s be real here, if gossip has no receiver, it has no power.
This topic came up yesterday with my daughter as we shared some couch time during the precious few moments she was at home between classes and work. She was venting her frustration with co-workers and the constant gossip that circulates as they talk about the work habits, personal lives, and characteristics of others. The negativity, distrust, and defensiveness it brings to the workplace are stifling, not to mention the barriers it creates to developing real friendships.
Our other daughter, who is in high school (a gossip mill if there ever was one), describes her take on gossip, “If you will talk to me about someone else, then you’ll talk to someone else about me.” She has learned that lesson the hard way as the subject of reputation robbing rumors. Whether true or untrue, gossip is a double-edged destroyer, not only demeaning the person talked about, but also infecting the character of those involved in its circulation.
According to Webster’s, gossip is a: rumor or report of an intimate nature b: a chatty talk
I would add one more: Unauthorized, personal information veiled in a prayer request. Even if you are well meaning, sharing intimate information about someone without their permission is not honoring. Christians tend to use this form of gossip more and any other. “Did you hear about … well I heard … we need to pray for them.” Little praying takes place, instead there is lots of “chatty talk”.
So how do we graciously avoid gossip?
1. Don’t say anything about someone you would not say if they were present.
2. Excuse yourself from conversation that involves gossip. (Yes, leave if you have to.)
3. When someone wants to complain to you about someone else, ask them if they have talked to the person about the issue. Let them know they are free to tell you once they do. This gives them a chance to resolve it without your involvement and most of the time it never makes its way back to you. Remember: #2 is always an option.
4. If you are unable to remove yourself from where the gossip is taking place, you will have to take a stand and let friends or co-workers know you are not comfortable discussing people like that. Saying something nice about the individual squashes the mood too.
5. If someone has a prayer request that becomes too personal about someone else, gently tell them you do not need to know all the details to pray.
6. If someone shares personal information with you, ask them if you have permission to share it (even with a spouse) or to ask others for prayer on their behalf. This honors their privacy.
7. Remember, gossip has no power when there is no receiver.
Getting to the root of gossip.
Judgment, insecurity, and elevation of Self are what gossip revolves around. When we engage in gossip, spreading it or listening to it, we make judgments about people or their circumstances. Our own insecurity draws us into conversations about other people. If we think there is a chink in their armor, we may experience momentary satisfaction, feeling better about ourselves. That is the subtly destructive aspect of gossip; it diminishes our character by feeding its counterfeit—self-esteem. The temporary feeling of superiority can never supplant the lasting character developed when we choose to humble ourselves and build others up.
Ephesians 4:29 Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
How do you graciously avoid gossip? Or do you?