Bonding or Criticizing?

I have two younger siblings, a brother and a sister.  As we were growing up, there were many times that I was irritated by one  of them. I would complain about my brother being the favorite or about my sister wearing her knees socks OVER her knees. It was perfectly acceptable for me to pick on either of them. But, it was NOT okay for anyone else to do the same. We were family and I would protect them both. As adults, it angered me when an in-law would criticize a sibling.  We were Browns  by birth.  Anyone else was an outsider, even if they just happened to be married to a Brown.

Through the years, I’ve watched newly formed family relationships damaged by inappropriate conversations that are critical of another family member.  It’s easy to get on the band wagon and bash whoever is under fire.  But be warned:  anything you say, can and will be repeated and YOU  will be the bad guy in the situation.  You may think you are safe talking about sister-in-law A to sister-in-law B.  You are wrong.  Whatever you say about A will be repeated by B at some point in the future.  When I was a newly wed 20-something, it was common to hear criticism of the other daughter-in-laws at family gatherings. As a result, I was very aware of every word I said. I was never completely at ease. I always wondered what was being said about me when I wasn’t around. On a few occasions, I did know what was said because it was repeated to me by an in-law.

I am constantly amazed to meet people who appear to thrive on  conflict.  I’m never sure if that’s the only attention they feel they deserve or  if it’s the only way they know to control a situation.  I was taught that being truthful made life easier.  It eliminated the need to keep up with multiple story lines.  I guess we all say what we believe the listener wants to hear to some degree.  But, I don’t understand people that tear down a person in one discussion and then get on social media and sing their praises as soon as they leave the room.  It’s not a way to build trust.  It’s not a way to build good family relationships.

A good rule of thumb:  If you wouldn’t say something directly to someone, don’t say it about them to someone else.  I’m aware there are times that we have to discuss intervention in situations, I get that.  But, the daily conversations that tend to move to gossip can be stopped.  It’s not easy.  I find it extremely difficult when I’m irritated or feeling used.  But, I know that I should at least attempt to control my conversations.

“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy.  We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”                                  Romans 14:13-14  The Message

A Resolution to Eliminate Gossip

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