Gossip. We know it’s bad. We’re told not to do it. But, what is gossip? Gossip is defined as: ” casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” The Biblical definition goes a bit further: “The Hebrew word translated “gossip” in the Old Testament is defined as “one who reveals secrets, one who goes about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.” A gossiper is a person who has privileged information about people and proceeds to reveal that information to those who have no business knowing it.” All of that sounds really distasteful. So, why is gossip so hard to avoid?
Maybe, we just don’t realize we are participating in gossip. And, often, it’s just too interesting, too tantalizing not to share information. It’s common in Christian circles to thinly disguise gossip as “prayer requests.” There is nothing wrong with asking for prayer for yourself or for others, but the information shared should be kept to an absolute minimum. Peter Vajda identifies gossip as a form of workplace violence, noting that it is “essentially a form of attack.” If I portray myself as a kind and truthful person, gossip would be the anti-thesis of that, right?
Gossip is distinguished from sharing information in two ways:
1. Intent. Gossipers often have the goal of building themselves up by making others look bad and exalting themselves as some kind of repositories of knowledge.
2. The type of information shared. Gossipers speak of the faults and failings of others, or reveal potentially embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval. Even if they mean no harm, it is still gossip.
How do I avoid participating in gossip? I need to consider everything BEFORE I share information with others. Would I share details about another person if they were standing next to me? Would the person(s) involved be hurt by what I’m sharing? Is it really necessary to give ALL of the details? Why do I WANT to share this information? Am I trying to justify my own actions? And, if I’m on the receiving end of a conversation, I need to ask the same questions. Many times, the simplest way to stop the sharing of gossip is to STOP listening. Even sympathetic listening can encourage gossip. I must learn to draw lines, to differentiate between constructive conversations and idle talk. I must learn to walk away from unhealthy talk and habits, for my own wellbeing as well as for those in my community.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Phillipians 4:8 NIV