Gossip… it is such a small word… six letters, yet it can destroy the world. It may not literally cause the earth to explode in flaming doom but it sure can feel like the end of the world and it can lead to the end of a relationship.
I have struggled for many years to define gossip. I am inclined to understand things and usually the way I begin that process is to grasp completely the definition of something. I have not found this to be an easy task when it comes to gossip. The bible teaches that gossip is evil and not to be done. It is pretty clear that the Big Nacho Eater in the sky finds gossip to be a deplorable practice. Because I am a person who cares about doing things that make God’s heart happy I want to make sure not to be participating in gossip. I fail at this goal all the time. All. The. Time.
I hear others say things like ‘I am woman so I like to gossip.’ ‘It is just so hard not to!’ ‘I like it, it’s fun.’ Okay that last one nearly made me gag, but honestly I have heard people say it. Men and women by the way. Ladies get a bad wrap for tongue wagging but I have known men to be among some of the worst gossips on the planet. I would dare say that it is a even split. I think that I might be able to write a book on this topic and perhaps one day I will, but that day is not today.
I shall return to the beginning. What is gossip?
When I was a teen in youth group it was explained as talking about other people in a way that is not true. Spreading rumors in other words. So I tucked that away and made sure not to do that. I didn’t spread, or continue to spread rumors. If I heard something about someone I would go to that person and ask them about it. That is where the trouble started. I thought I was not gossiping. I didn’t think I was doing wrong yet I found myself hurting people that I cared about. I have come to learn though that, that is not a true or correct definition of gossip. In fact that is a definition of yet another no no from the bible, (man so many rules!) and it is slander. Spreading rumors and lies about someone is slander. It is also very poisonous and destructive, but not gossip.
So then what in the world is gossip and how do I not participate? Where is the line between talking with friends about life and gossip?
Websters defines it this way:
idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others
Hmm. Well that wasn’t much help. Thanks for nothing you useless reptile. 😉
As I have traveled through life there have been many times that I have been talking with friends and as we were catching up the conversation would go to the topic of others and I began to feel unsettled in myself. For many years I ignored it as I did with all of my feelings. In the last few years I have been intentional about not ignoring my heart. I have not encountered this scenario very many times in the last few years but there are two times that stand out.
One of the times was about three years ago at the beginning of my non heart ignoring lifestyle. A friend was sharing with me some concern she had for a family situation and shared with me her thoughts and opinions and conversations surrounding it. Later I was talking with another close friend and member of the same family and the topic came up. This person was sharing their hurt and frustration and I told them something my other friend had told me and boy did it cause a problem. Not only did it make an already bad situation worse but it deeply hurt my friend. I was not thinking. I was trying to help. I didn’t think that what I had done was gossip but it was. I could have destroyed a precious friendship. My friend forgave me and chose to still trust me after that debacle. When I think of the risk that she took I am amazed at her strength and grace. I don’t know that I would have been able to give the gift she gave to me to someone who hurt me that way. I don’t deserve her.
Another happened recently and after many restless nights I am still licking my wounds. A while ago I was in a situation where I was catching up with a friend and the conversation went towards a mutual friend. She began to tell me things so and so had told so and so and I listened for much longer than I should have. I began to feel a little sick in my heart and I steered the conversation away from that topic. Later I wondered why I had felt that way. Was it because that was gossip? Recently the person whom the information concerned shared with me the same thing and when I respond with the words ‘I know.’ the pain it caused him was palpable. I might as well have stabbed him in the heart with a flaming sword. It took him a couple of days to let me know how much that hurt him, and what he thought of it all. His words were… painful to hear. In fact they burned through me and my entire body grew cold. He was not unkind, and what he said was truth. Still it sucks to hurt a friend and to know that they have lost respect for you.
I never thought how either of my friends would feel about what I listened to and what I said. I never thought about how any of the people I have listened to other people talk about would feel.
I have come to realize that gossip is discussing anything about another person that does not edify, honor, or support them. True or not true is irrelevant. Talking about another persons failure, indiscretion, ruin, health, or personal business is gossip. The only person’s failure, indiscretion, ruin, health, or personal business you should be talking about is your own.
If you are about to talk about someone put yourself in their place. Ask yourself if I were them how would I feel about this topic being talked about? Would it hurt you? Would it make you feel uncomfortable, or bad? Don’t say it. Also ask your self if it edifies, honors, or supports the person. If it doesn’t then don’t say it. When someone asks you how a mutual acquaintance is doing make sure you only share things that honor the person. If you can’t think of anything then say ‘You should call them up and ask yourself.’ These questions would have helped me to avoid both of these situations and countless others that came before them.
I wish I could take back the hurt that I caused by my ignorance, I wish I had not failed my friends, but I have learned form both of those failures. I hope that I can be more sensitive in the future and live as a better friend.
©Rachel Anne Redfield 2017