Gossip—How to Avoid Hurting Yourself and Others
AS LONG as there are people, there will be gossip. Even the perfect new world prophesied about in the Bible will likely not be gossip free.* (2 Peter 3:13) Informal, casual talk about friends and acquaintances is an integral part of the way we communicate with one another and maintain healthy relationships.
Nevertheless, there is never an excuse for hurtful, malicious gossip, or slander! That kind of talk injures and maims; it may even ruin lives, relationships, and reputations. So how can you avoid stepping over the line of propriety and indulging in harmful gossip? How might you protect yourself from it? Some of the best advice ever offered on this subject is written in the Bible. Let us look at just some of this advice.
Bite Your Tongue: It has been said that “conversation is an exercise of the mind, but gossiping is merely an exercise of the tongue.” Really, most injurious speech reflects, not malice, but a failure to think before speaking. Some blab the business of others; they spice, exaggerate, and distort with little thought to the consequences. They expose to others the faults of their friends, mates, and children without even discerning the damage they inflict.
The Bible thus gives this advice: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” (Proverbs 10:19) In other words, think before you speak. Think before you say something about someone else. Ask yourself: ‘Would I repeat it in the person’s presence? How would I feel if this was said about me?’ (Matthew 7:12) Says Psalm 39:1: “I will guard my ways to keep from sinning with my tongue. I will set a muzzle as a guard to my own mouth.”
Admittedly, there may be circumstances in which biting your tongue may prove to be almost impossible. For example, you may have strong suspicions of serious wrongdoing committed against you or your family. You may not have any proof, but you feel the need to do something about it. Would it be slanderous to talk about it with a trusted friend or someone in authority? Are you a malicious gossiper if you approach someone for advice? Clearly not. The Bible acknowledges the wisdom of confidential talk. Of course, good judgment and balance are vital when handling such delicate situations.—Proverbs 15:22.
Do Not Listen to Hurtful Gossip: What would happen to ‘big mouths,’ if there were no ‘big ears’? Those who are constantly engaged in foolish talk are only part of the problem; those who take delight in paying attention are also accountable. Simply listening may constitute your silent approval and contribute to the spread of hurtful gossip. Proverbs 17:4 says: “The evildoer is paying attention to the lip of hurtfulness. A falsifier is giving ear to the tongue causing adversities.”
So when talk about someone gets out of hand, you may have to show some courage and say, ‘Let’s change the subject.’ And if your present circle of friends prove incurably prone to engage in harmful gossip, you may even have to consider finding new associates. Says the Bible: “A gossip can never keep a secret. Stay away from people who talk too much.” (Proverbs 20:19, Today’s English Version) Likely, it is just a matter of time before you become the topic for discussion.
Do Not Overreact to Gossip: Most people enjoy gossip as long as the gossip is not about them. On the other hand, suppose you are the victim of an ugly rumor or false story. Sometimes it is possible to track down the source of the story and calmly straighten matters out. But what if you cannot?
Your getting angry accomplishes nothing. Indeed, “he that is quick to anger will commit foolishness,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 14:17) Solomon thus gives this advice: “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 7:21, 22) Gossip is a fact of life, and at one time or another, you have probably been an active participant in it yourself. Is the matter really worth getting upset over? Will it most likely fade away after a while? There is “a time to laugh,” and perhaps showing that you have a sense of humor, laughing it off would be the best way to extinguish the rumor.—Ecclesiastes 3:4.
Do Not Add Fuel to the Fire: If the story simply refuses to die, ask yourself: ‘Could it be that I am giving others a reason to gossip? Am I perhaps behaving in a questionable manner, giving the appearance of wrongdoing?’ Consider the following situations:
□ A woman’s coworkers call her lazy and undependable behind her back—even though she carries out her duties satisfactorily. Why the bad reputation? For one thing, she manifests a carefree, easygoing attitude that is easily misinterpreted as laziness. Her grooming is far too casual for the business setting she works in. Finally, she is indiscreet in her handling of personal phone calls, talking loud enough to attract the attention of the whole office staff. Hence, the gossip!
□ A local storekeeper is the talk of his small community. Rumor has it that he has been unfaithful to his wife. The man vehemently denies the false allegation. The cause of the rumor? His reputation for being unduly familiar with female customers.
□ A teenage girl is spoken of as having loose morals. Some claim that she has several lovers and that she is a cocaine user. All the stories are false. But she is known for associating with individuals who are part of the drug scene. She is extreme in her dress, hairstyle, and makeup.
If you are the victim of malicious gossip, it may thus prove helpful to determine if your behavior, your manner of dealing with others, even your dress and grooming, are in some way adding fuel to the fire. Perhaps some adjustments in your life-style would squelch the rumors. “Where there is no wood the fire goes out,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 26:20) Besides, if your actions are close to the borderline of impropriety, there is always the real danger of actually slipping into wrongdoing—making what was once a rumor a reality.—Compare Galatians 6:7, 8; 1 Corinthians 10:12.
“Mind Your Own Business”
Gossip is here to stay. However, it must be respected for its potentially destructive power. You can avoid much heartache and grief for yourself and others simply by following these wise words: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things . . . , and the God of peace will be with you.”—Philippians 4:8, 9.
Yes, God himself is interested in the way we speak of others. Jesus Christ warned: “Every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be declared righteous, and by your words you will be condemned.”—Matthew 12:36, 37; compare Psalm 52:2-5.
Do you want good relations with others, peace of mind, and, most important of all, a good standing with God? Then follow the inspired counsel of God’s Word: “Make it your aim to live quietly and to mind your own business.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) Show an interest in others, but do so in a kindly, dignified way. Thus you will steer clear of malicious, harmful gossip.
For further information, see the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., chapter 19.
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Walk away from hurtful talk
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Does your indiscreet conduct give people reason to gossip about you?