Young People Ask . . .
What Should I Do if People Gossip About Me?
“NINETY-FIVE percent of the people in my high school gossip,” says one sophomore in a New York high (secondary) school. The prime topic of gossip? “Other students: their personalities, how they look, who likes whom, and what they say about each other.”—Seventeen magazine, July 1983.
Often, though, gossip veers toward the negative and results in serious damage to the reputation of others.* And since gossip is so universally practiced among youths as well as adults, the likelihood is great that you yourself are (or will someday become) the victim of hurtful gossip. If so, what can you do? Is there any way to stop the hurtful chatter?
The Pain of Gossip
No doubt about it: It really hurts when personal information is leaked to others or when you are the victim of a false rumor. Feelings of anger and vengeance may accompany periods of hurt and depression. “It makes you feel as if you want to hurt the person,” said one victim of gossip. Another said: “You feel crushed; it is like being stabbed in the back. It can make you feel as if you never want to speak to them again. Your trust is gone, and you just can’t stop thinking about the problem.”
Indeed, gossip has caused many youths to become virtually immobilized by embarrassment. One young girl thus transferred to another school rather than face the youths who shared in spreading an ugly rumor about her. Nevertheless, neither revenge, anger, nor paralyzing embarrassment improves the situation one bit. There are far more effective ways of dealing with contrary talk.
Before you do anything, remember: “He that is quick to anger will commit foolishness.” (Proverbs 14:17) The message? Do not overreact! Hasty actions often create more problems than they solve. Cautions the Bible: “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” Why? For one thing, you simply cannot stop people from talking about other people. Being talked about is just a part of life. Solomon further advised: “Do not give your heart to all the words that people may speak . . . For your own heart well knows even many times that you, even you, have called down evil upon others.”—Ecclesiastes 7:9, 21, 22.
Solomon was not justifying negative gossip. He was simply recognizing it as a fact of life. As much as you may dislike being talked about, is it not true that you have probably said things about others that would best have been left unsaid?
In her book Gossip, Patricia Meyer Spacks observed: “More common is gossip issuing not from purposeful malice but . . . from lack of thought . . . It derives from unconsidered desire to say something without having to ponder too deeply. Without purposeful intent, gossipers bandy words and anecdotes about other people.” Realizing this may help temper your indignation.
Strategies for Dealing With Gossip
Proverbs 14:15 says that “the shrewd one considers his steps.” This would suggest calmly mapping out a strategy to deal effectively with gossip.
You might begin by considering how serious the gossip is. Perhaps the story circulating about you, while embarrassing or even untrue, is genuinely amusing and really does not besmirch your character. In other words, you would have preferred that the world not know of your locking yourself out of your own house during a rainstorm or of your splitting your gym shorts while doing sit-ups, but now that the word is out, is it really such a disaster? Perhaps the best way to let the rumor die is to display a sense of humor.
Suppose, though, that the rumor is really uncomplimentary or insulting? Is it really likely to cause lasting damage to your reputation—or will it more likely die out soon? If the latter seems true, it may be best simply to ride out the storm. Keeping a ‘business as usual’ demeanor—rather than going about sulking or looking guilty—will at least prevent your fueling the rumor. Says Proverbs 26:20: “Where there is no wood the fire goes out, and where there is no slanderer contention grows still.”
Sometimes, though, the matter is too serious to ignore. Jesus Christ advised his followers what to do when someone caused a personal offense such as by slander: “Go lay bare his fault between you and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15) It might be possible then to trace the harmful talk to its source and calmly discuss matters with the individual responsible for starting the rumor.
True, that person may not be a Christian. But if you know that the person is reasonable, perhaps he or she will respond favorably. It may turn out that the whole matter is the result of some serious misunderstanding. If animosity is at the root, perhaps the matter can be ironed out between you.
Often, though, it is very difficult to track down the source of a rumor. And even if you can, the one responsible may not be willing to own up to the indiscretion. What then? Remember that Jesus Christ was the victim of “contrary talk.” (Hebrews 12:3) Jesus, however, did not become so upset that he abandoned his preaching work and set out to track down the person who started this troublesome talk. Rather, he said: “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.”—Matthew 11:19.
Jesus knew that those who were fair would observe his fine works and conclude that the hurtful talk was baseless. Similarly, let your conduct be your best defense against gossip. Since your real friends know the truth about you, they will not believe outlandish stories. Still, you can let them know that a lie about you is circulating. Often they can do much to help squelch the rumor by correcting any misinformed ones they encounter.
But what if the story has already been widely circulated? Usually it is not quite as bad as you imagine. Besides, people do not talk indefinitely about any situation. There are always plenty of events in the making that will sooner or later take the spotlight off you. In the meantime, though, do not suffer in silence. Why not share your feelings with a parent or another mature adult? Oftentimes, talking matters out helps put a problem in perspective.
A Learning Experience
Being a victim of gossip also presents you with opportunities to learn some valuable lessons. For example, having personally experienced just how damaging reckless talk can be, why not resolve never to be a party to spreading rumors?
The ordeal of being gossiped about may have revealed flaws in your personality, such as a tendency to seek vengeance. Or it may be that your pride has proved to be more of a problem than the rumor itself. Undue concern for your image may have caused you to ‘think more of yourself than it is necessary to think.’ (Romans 12:3) Now would be the time to start working on taking yourself a bit less seriously.
In retrospect, you may also realize that poor judgment on your part contributed to the spread of the rumor. Did you, for example, confide your innermost thoughts to a youth with a reputation for “opening wide his lips”? (Proverbs 13:3) Then perhaps you will choose your confidant a bit more carefully next time. You will also be careful to conduct yourself impeccably so as not to give others any ammunition for gossip.—Compare 1 Peter 2:15.
Yes, handle matters calmly and kindly, and you can rise above foolish rumors—and perhaps even stop them.
See “Gossip—What’s the Harm in It?” appearing in the July 8, 1989, issue of Awake!
[Pictures on page 18]
Sometimes it is possible to track down the source of the rumor and have a face-to-face discussion with the gossiper