I usually start my favorite conversations with: “Did you hear what happened?!” Immediately following this question I give the scoop – who it was, what they did, when it happened, where it happened, and why they did it. My high school journalism teacher would be proud that I am able to report so succinctly after all these years, though he would probably be questioning the accuracy of my source material.
The truth is, I love to gossip. I love to hear all the details, then speculate on the subject matter, and pass judgement. But my gossiping isn’t always this nefarious thing where I’m attempting to damage someone’s reputation – sometimes it’s just sharing information about what I heard from someone who heard something from someone else. I’m a sharer of information!
I’d like to blame my gossiping on my grandma, who would go to McDonald’s with her best friend and the two would gossip for hours. Multiple times a week they would finagle their way into getting free coffee while discussing all the news that wasn’t fit to print. But as much as I would like to, I can’t blame my genetics on my propensity for gossiping.
The thing is, I’m not a fan of gossip and the damage it creates. I’ve seen pastors battle with congregants over rumors of retirement. I’ve seen men sort through the gossip to save their marriage. I’ve seen friendships destroyed, jobs abandoned, relationships ended, and innocent lives taken because of gossip. I’ve been the victim of it and know how hurtful and judged a person can feel being the subject of gossip. And yet, I still do it.
I know the Bible has copious verses on idle talk, mischievous tongues, slanderous lips, busybodies, and gossips. I know the damage that my own words have done when I have spread gossip, when I have taken tidbits of information and exaggerated them to expansive proportions, when I have learned something about someone and speculated on it with someone else.
There’s this line from an old country song that sums up what I’m feeling when I gossip: “I always feel the best when my conscience hurts the most.” I really, truly know that gossip is hurtful and damaging, and still, I do it because it makes me feel good. If I can tear down someone who I think is better than me, I’ll feel better about myself. If I can condemn someone else’s actions, I can feel better about my own. If I can damage someone else’s reputation I’ll look better than them.
When I gossip, it’s usually because I’m not feeling good about myself and I want to bring others down to my level. When I can lower others I think I’m not such a terrible person. But I’m not doing anyone any good – I’m just damaging them and myself.
Living in a small community where my neighbors are my friends and my friends are in class with me, gossip is HUGE (yes, it’s a Christian community, and yes, we manage to gossip a lot). We talk behind people’s backs, we tear one another down, we bend the truth and spread it quickly. We gossip about people not living up to certain standards when we ourselves aren’t living up to them, either. We’re petty and manipulate the truth. Gossip takes control and runs us over.
There’s a fine line between sharing information and sharing the juicy details. It’s a short walk between telling an anecdote and telling gossip. I wish the lines were clearer, the boundaries bigger, the differences larger. I seek definition and turn to the dictionary to define ‘gossip’, but it’s pretty unclear: “rumor or report of an intimate nature.” What are the qualifications for information becoming gossip? What qualifies information to be just information? At what point does a conversation turn into a gossip session?
I think part of what defines a conversation as gossip is the intent – is this a conversation about a person or is it about revealing something hurtful about that person? Is it the full and honest truth, or is it just picked-out details to paint someone in a negative light?
Another part that defines a conversation as gossip is interest – is it because I’m truly interested in the person and situation, or because I’m wanting to get into their affairs and speculate? Am I putting my nose where it doesn’t belong?
Lastly, what defines a conversation as gossip is outcome – am I sharing this information as it pertains to something or someone else, or am I sharing it because I want to cause damage? Is it an attempt to bring someone else down a peg or two because I’m not at their same level?
This gossip thing is hard, and I think there’s something to be said for it’s frequent condemnation in the Bible. God desires for us to love and care for one another; God desires for us to lift one another up in all conversations. God wishes that we would be better, do better, and gossip a whole lot less – because our gossip not only hurts other people, it hurts our Creator.
Let’s think before we speak. Let’s question the information we’re about to share. Let’s find other things to talk about. May our words be tempered by wisdom, may our mouths build bridges, and may our conversations be beneficial.
much love. sheth.