Are You Lovingly Interested in People?
PEOPLE are interested in people. Is that not true? Who of us is not interested in hearing about other people? But we can add to our joy and satisfaction if we sense, and act in accord with, the difference between being interested in people and being lovingly interested in people. To that end, let us consider gossip.
“The most phenomenal success in the publishing business today.” Business Week of May 16, 1977, quoted that remark about the magazine People. Its popularity is just one evidence that the general public has a thirst for stories about people.
Have you not seen other indications? In Europe you find that most newsstands overflow with magazines that feature stories about princesses, counts and international celebrities—the jet set or the beautiful people, as they have been called. A recent McCall’s article, “The Gossipers,” said:
“Like the sea around us, [gossip] is everywhere. Every other best-selling novel takes the shape of a gossipy roman à clef, in which the ‘fictional’ characters . . . are real persons, thinly disguised. Even the formerly most staid newspapers have loosened up enough to run a ‘people’ section, offering vignettes of the famous, the more personal the better. And gossip has seeped from America’s front porches onto America’s front pages.”
True, some persons might not like to think that what they are reading is “gossip.” They may term it “investigative reporting” or “intimate journalism.” But anthropologist Margaret Mead observed:
“In a magnificent outburst of enthusiasm, columnists and feature writers all across the country—and, indeed, in England and the countries of western Europe as well—have been celebrating their success as purveyors of talk about people. That is, to put it plainly, their success as gossips.”
Is being interested in other people bad, something to avoid? Does it have possible good aspects? Is it something new? Henry R. Luce, publisher of Time magazine, once said: “Time didn’t start this emphasis on stories about people; the Bible did.”
Yes, the Bible does contain many stories about people. It also offers us divine counsel on our interest in people.
The Biblical stories about people are not mere idle talk. In contrast to much of today’s gossip, the Bible accounts are not offered to titillate with intimate morsels about people’s faults, to tear down reputations or simply to satisfy readers’ curiosity. Rather, those accounts promote interest in people with good reason.
Take, for example, the story of Cain and Abel. Is that only a ‘juicy tidbit’ about a family problem, a kinship rivalry? Not at all. The Bible draws from the account important lessons about faith, avoiding hatred and pleasing God. Hence, what the Bible says about Cain and Abel is “beneficial” for us.—Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:10-15; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
Even when the Bible relates the failings of “good” persons, the details are offered to benefit thoughtful readers. Few of us have not heard of David’s adultery with beautiful Bath-sheba. Yet how different the Bible’s account is from today’s newspaper or magazine stories of the infidelities of film stars and politicians. The Bible makes clear that God disapproved of David’s sin, and it shows that even though he had been close to God, David was punished. It does not glorify immorality or make it appealing. The Scriptures also relate David’s heartfelt repentance that led to God’s showing of mercy.—2 Sam. 11:1–12:23; Ps. 51.
Now, it may be easy for us to draw a lesson from this as regards seeking to limit our interest in newspaper or magazine gossip. But what about the more common aspect—stories that our associates tell us about others? Should we work against any tendency to enjoy hearing tidbits or accounts about people whom we know?
Not necessarily, for we have a natural and appropriate interest in our relatives, friends and associates. If one of them is getting married, has had a child, has been sick, makes good progress in studying the Bible or has had an interesting vacation or experience, we surely have reason to be interested. We are lovingly interested in those individuals. So why should we not like to hear about them or speak about them ourselves?
The Bible, though, warns about the danger of a great deal of loose, idle talk. (Prov. 10:19; 15:2) And the Scriptures condemn sharing in, even listening to, chatter that is malicious, that is not based on a loving interest in the person being spoken about. (Eccl. 10:12-14; 3 John 9, 10) Those who give in to such gossiping—both the one speaking and the one listening—are not doing anyone good. Relating another’s mistake with the motive of lowering that person in the eyes of others, causing sensation or building up oneself as the source of secret information, really is harmful. God’s Word says that this sort of gossip separates friends. Certainly, in such cases, the tongue is not being used as “a healing.”—Prov. 12:18; 17:9.
That this can be a danger even for Christians is borne out by the apostle Paul’s counsel. Some women in his day, the first century C.E., were “unoccupied, gadding about to the houses; yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not.”—1 Tim. 5:13.
But how do we determine if our interest in hearing about someone is proper or not? One way is to ask: “Am I lovingly interested in the person being spoken about?” If what is being said is of a negative nature, do we listen with thoughts of how we might be able to help? Perhaps someone relates that one of our acquaintances has had a misfortune. Do we begin thinking about visiting that one to upbuild him, offering to help with chores, or even about sending a card expressing our concern and interest? If, though, what is being said can accomplish no good for anyone, why listen to it? Is it not simply gossip? It might even be slander.—Prov. 16:28; Rom. 1:28-32.
The apostle Paul exemplified loving interest in others. Word once was brought to him to the effect that Christians in the Corinthian congregation were tending to follow various prominent men. Did Paul ‘give ear’ to that because it was choice gossip? No. He was lovingly interested in his Corinthian brothers, and he took positive steps to help. He wrote to them, giving counsel that would assist them to rectify the fault.—1 Cor. 1:11-13; 3:4-23.
So, at a time when gossip “has hit the big time,” we do well to give thought to our reaction to gossip. Are we careful that we do not get carried away with gossip that serves no good purpose? Do we guide our thinking and actions by an interest in people that is truly a loving interest?