Young People Ask . . .
Should I Tell On My Friend?
“I COULDN’T believe he was doing such a thing,” recalls Lee. Lee was out riding his bike with his cousin when, to his surprise, he saw his best friend, Chris, with a group of youths.
Chris was smoking a cigarette.
Lee was shocked, since this went contrary to Chris’ professed Christian beliefs—not to mention his parents’ wishes. (2 Corinthians 7:1) Chris slyly dropped his cigarette and snuffed it out with his foot, but Lee wasn’t fooled. He then learned that smoking was just the beginning of Chris’ problems, due to the bad company he was keeping. Lee realized his friend needed help and knew that he wasn’t in a position to give it. At the same time, he was reluctant to tell anyone else about the problem. Explains Lee: “He was my friend, and I didn’t want to squeal.”
Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar position—suddenly aware that a friend is dabbling in drugs, experimenting with sex, cheating, or stealing. Says a popular youth magazine: “Squealing. Blowing the whistle. Being a tattletale. Some teens worry that’s what they’ll be doing when they speak up on behalf of a pal.”
The Code of Silence
Misguided loyalty seems to be the primary reason youths hold back from reporting a friend’s wrongdoing. Viewing discipline as something harmful, negative, and damaging, they imagine that they do their friend a favor by covering up his problems. The TV and motion-picture industries have fueled this notion by glamorizing the idea that only rats and stool pigeons squeal on their pals. Hence, an unwritten code of silence often prevails among youths. As a young man named Carl puts it: “The thing is to cover up for your buddies. When it comes to telling on others, you just don’t do it!”
Breaking that code of silence exposes one to the ridicule of peers and the possible loss of friendship. An article in ’Teen magazine, for example, tells of a girl named Debbie who learned that her friend Karen was a shoplifter. In an effort to help, Debbie decided to tell Karen’s parents. Karen stopped speaking to Debbie. More than that, Debbie’s friends likewise shunned her and ridiculed her for being a squealer. “It was an embarrassing experience, and yes, it hurt,” says Debbie.
Should You Break the Silence?
Similarly, Lee risked such hurt and embarrassment and decided to act. Says Lee: “My conscience was eating me up because I knew I had to tell someone!” This reminds us of an event recorded at Genesis 37:2: “Joseph, when seventeen years old, happened to be tending sheep with his brothers . . . So Joseph brought a bad report about them to their father.” Likely, this report concerned no light matter, as the original Hebrew word rendered “bad” can also mean “evil.” Perhaps Joseph’s brothers were in some way jeopardizing the family’s economic interests. Whatever the case, Joseph knew that if he remained silent, the spiritual welfare of his brothers would be endangered.
Overlooking wrong acts or unscriptural thinking has been likened to trying to ignore a toothache. Grin and bear the pain all you like, the cavity won’t go away. Indeed, you merely allow decay to spread. Similarly, sin is a decaying, corrupting force. Unchecked, corruption invariably begets further corruption. (Galatians 6:8) In other words, unless an erring friend receives help—perhaps in the form of firm Scriptural discipline—he or she may plunge yet deeper into wickedness.—Ecclesiastes 8:11.
Covering up a friend’s wrongdoing thus does little good and may do irreparable harm. No wonder, then, that Joseph felt impelled to report his brothers’ wrongdoing! What about Christians today? The Bible exhorts: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) Understandably, you may not feel you have the spiritual qualifications to readjust an erring friend. But would it not make sense to see to it that the matter is reported to someone who is qualified to help? Why, neglecting to do so could even make you ‘a sharer in his sins’! (1 Timothy 5:22; compare Leviticus 5:1.) It could call into question your own loyalty to God and to his righteous standards.—Psalm 18:25.
Approaching Your Friend
It is thus imperative that you approach your friend and lay bare his fault. (Compare Matthew 18:15.) This will take courage and boldness on your part. Don’t be surprised, though, if you meet with some resistance, as it is a human tendency to make excuses. Be firm, giving convincing evidence regarding his sin, specifically telling what you know and how you came to know of it. (Compare John 16:8.) Do not promise you ‘won’t tell anyone,’ for such a promise would be invalid in the eyes of God, who condemns covering up wrongdoing.—Proverbs 28:13.
Proverbs 18:13 warns, however: “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part.” Perhaps some misunderstanding has occurred. On the other hand, your friend may be relieved to have his problem out in the open and to have someone to talk to and confide in. So be a good listener. (James 1:19) Do not stifle the free flow of his feelings by using judgmental expressions such as, “You shouldn’t have . . . ” or, “If it had been me, I would have . . . ” These only accentuate the friend’s feelings of guilt and helplessness. Likewise, expressions of shock such as, “How could you!” only make a bad situation worse.
Recall the Bible’s account of Job’s three “comforters,” who did little more than condemn Job. After being subjected to their humiliating accusations, Job said: “The comfort you give is only torment. Are you going to keep on talking forever? . . . If you were in my place and I in yours, . . . I could strengthen you with advice and keep talking to comfort you.” (Job 16:1-5, Today’s English Version) So try to show empathy and feel what your friend feels. (1 Peter 3:8) This can temper what you say and how you say it.
But while you may do what you can to encourage your friend, often the situation requires more help than you are in a position to give. Insist, then, that your friend reveal the wrong to his parents or other responsible adults. And if your friend refuses to do so? Let him know that if he does not clear the matter up within a reasonable period of time, then as his true friend, you will be obliged to go to someone in his behalf.
Being “a True Companion”
Proverbs 17:17 reminds us that “a true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” True, at first your friend may not understand why you took such action, and he may not appreciate it. He may even become upset and rashly terminate your friendship. But don’t panic. Give your friend time to sort out his feelings and come to realize that you were really interested in his lasting welfare and good.
Now let us return to the cases of Lee and Debbie. Says Lee: “I know I did the right thing by telling somebody. My conscience felt so much better because Chris was getting the help he needed. Later he came and told me that he was not upset with me for doing what I did and that also put me at ease.” True, not all friends will react favorably. Recalls Debbie: “I just knew I couldn’t let Karen continue and maybe even end up in jail with a juvenile record.” Eventually Karen’s friends stopped the nasty comments. Says Debbie: “I made new friends. I survived and learned a lot along the way.”
If your acquaintance continues to resent your courageous actions, obviously he or she never was a true friend in the first place. Among true Christians, though, there are those who will admire your high principles, some of whom may even seek your friendship as a result. At the very least, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you proved your loyalty to God and showed yourself to be a true friend.
[Blurb on page 19]
If your friend is unwilling to get help himself, it may be necessary for you to act in his behalf
[Picture on page 21]
What should you do if you learn that a friend is headed for serious trouble?