Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Stop the Gossip?
“Once I went to a party, and the next day rumors were spread that I had had sex with one of the boys there. That wasn’t true at all!”—Linda.*
“Sometimes I’ll hear a rumor that I’m dating someone—someone whom, in fact, I don’t even know! Many people who gossip don’t bother to check the facts.”—Mike.
GOSSIP can fill your life with more intrigue than a feature film. Just ask 19-year-old Amber. “I’ve been a constant victim,” she says. “It was rumored that I was pregnant, that I’d had abortions, and that I was selling drugs, buying drugs, and doing drugs. Why would people say these things about me? Really, I have no idea!”
When your parents were in their teens, the latest buzz was most often spread by word of mouth. Today, though, gossip has gone high-tech. Armed with e-mail and instant messaging, a boy or a girl with malicious intent can tarnish your reputation without even speaking a word. All it takes is a few keystrokes to send a vicious rumor on its way to dozens of eager recipients.
Some say that the Internet is quickly replacing the telephone as the preferred tool for gossip. In some cases an entire Web site has been set up just to humiliate someone. More commonly, online blogs—Web sites that contain personal journals—are glutted with gossip such as would never be uttered in person. Indeed, in one survey 58 percent of youths said that they had been the target of hurtful things written about them online.
But is talking about others always bad? And is there such a thing as . . .
Is the following true or false?
Gossip is always bad. □ True □ False
What’s the correct response? Really, it depends on how you define “gossip.” If the word merely means casual talk, there may be times when it’s appropriate. After all, the Bible tells us to “be interested in the lives of others.” (Philippians 2:4, New Century Version) Not that we should be busybodies in matters that don’t concern us. (1 Peter 4:15) But informal conversation often provides useful information, such as who’s getting married, who had a baby, and who’s in need of some type of assistance. Let’s face it—we can’t say we care about others if we never talk about them.
Still, casual talk can easily turn into harmful gossip. For example, the innocent remark “Bob and Sue would make a good couple” might be repeated as “Bob and Sue are a couple”—even though Bob and Sue know nothing of their supposed romance. ‘Not a serious problem,’ you might say—unless, of course, you were Bob or Sue!
Julie, aged 18, was the victim of that kind of gossip, and it hurt. “It made me angry,” she says, “and it raised doubts in my mind about trusting others.” Jane, aged 19, was in a similar situation. “I ended up avoiding the boy I was supposedly dating,” she says, adding, “It didn’t seem fair, as we were friends and I felt that we should be able to talk without rumors starting.”
Clearly, harmful gossip has far-reaching negative effects. Yet, many who have been hurt by the practice will readily admit that they have also engaged in it. The fact is that when disparaging remarks are being made about someone, it can be powerfully tempting to join in. Why? “It’s an escape,” suggests 18-year-old Phillip. “People would rather focus on other people’s problems than their own.” What can you do, then, if innocent talk turns into harmful gossip?
Steer Conversations Carefully!
Think of the skill that’s required to drive on a busy highway. Unexpectedly, a situation may arise that makes it necessary for you to change lanes, yield, or come to a complete stop. If you’re alert and safety conscious, you see what’s ahead and react accordingly.
It’s similar with conversation. You can usually tell when a discussion is veering into harmful gossip. When that happens, can you skillfully change lanes, as it were? If you don’t, be forewarned—gossip can do damage. “I said something unkind about a girl—that she was boy crazy—and it got back to her,” relates Mike. “I’ll never forget her voice when she confronted me, how hurt she was over my thoughtless remark. We smoothed things over, but I didn’t feel good knowing that I had hurt someone in that way!”
True, it may take courage to put the brakes on a conversation that has veered into gossip. Still, it is as 17-year-old Carolyn points out: “You need to be careful of what you say. If you haven’t heard it from a reliable source, you could be spreading lies.”
To steer clear of harmful gossip, follow the advice of these scriptures from the Bible:
“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) The more you talk, the more likely it is that you will say something that you’ll later regret. In the end, it’s better to be known as a quiet listener than a big talker!
“The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer, but the mouth of the wicked ones bubbles forth with bad things.” (Proverbs 15:28) Think before you speak!
“Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25) Before relating information, make sure it is factual.
“Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” (Luke 6:31) Before relating even accurate information about someone, ask yourself, ‘How would I feel if I were in that person’s position and someone divulged these facts about me?’
“Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.” (Romans 14:19) Even factual information can be harmful if it is not upbuilding.
“Make it your aim to live quietly and to mind your own business and work with your hands.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) Don’t be consumed with others’ affairs. There are better ways to use your time.
When You Are the Victim
It’s one thing to control the tongue and to refrain from gossiping about others. But when you are the subject of gossip, you might take the matter even more seriously. “I felt that I would never have friends again,” says 16-year-old Joanne, a victim of malicious gossip. “Some nights I cried myself to sleep. I felt as if my entire reputation had been destroyed!”
What can you do if you become the victim of baseless rumors?
▪ Look behind the words. Try to understand what motivates people to gossip. Some do it to gain popularity, to make it appear that they are in the know. “They want people to think they’re cool just because they’re talking about other people,” says Karen, aged 14. Insecurity can cause some youths to put others down just so they can feel better about themselves. Renee, aged 17, takes it a step further. “People are bored,” she says. “They want to create drama and make life more interesting by starting a rumor.”
▪ Control Your Emotions. One who is injured by harmful gossip and fails to keep his feelings of embarrassment and resentment in check could react in a way that he will later regret. “He that is quick to anger will commit foolishness,” says Proverbs 14:17. Although it is easier said than done, this is the time to exercise more than the usual restraint. If you do, you’ll avoid falling into the same trap as the one did who gossiped about you.
▪ Discern the actual intent. Ask yourself the following: ‘Am I certain that what I heard was actually said about me? Is it a rumor or a serious misunderstanding? Am I being too sensitive?’ Of course, there’s no excuse for harmful gossip. Yet, overreacting may cast a more negative light on you than the actual gossip would. Why not, then, adopt the view that helped Renee. “I’m usually hurt when someone says something bad about me, but I try to keep it in perspective,” she says. “I mean, next week they’ll probably be talking about someone or something else.”*
Your Best Defense
The Bible acknowledges that “we all stumble many times,” adding: “If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (James 3:2) Hence, to take seriously every remark that is made about us would be unwise. Ecclesiastes 7:22 says: “Your own heart well knows even many times that you, even you, have called down evil upon others.”
In the face of harmful gossip, your best defense is your fine conduct. Jesus said: “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matthew 11:19) So try to remain truly friendly and loving. You might be surprised at how quickly that can stop the gossip—or at least enable you to endure its effects.
More articles from the “Young People Ask . . .” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/ype
Names in this article have been changed.
In some circumstances it may be wise to find a tactful way to confront the gossiper. In many cases, though, this is not necessary, as “love covers a multitude of sins.”—1 Peter 4:8.
TO THINK ABOUT
▪ How can you keep from spreading gossip about others?
▪ How will you respond if someone gossips about you?