What’s So Bad About 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!”
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! In some cases an entire Web site has been set up just to humiliate someone. More commonly, online blogs are glutted with gossip that would never be uttered in person.
But is talking about others always bad? Could there be such a thing as . . .
Mark the following statement 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 meddle in matters that don’t concern us. (1 Peter 4:15) But informal conversation often provides useful information, such as who’s getting married or who had a baby. 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, 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, 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!”
Steer Your Conversations Carefully
How can you control your tongue when tempted to gossip? To answer that question, 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, 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’? 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!”
There’s no doubt that words can hurt. Even the Bible acknowledges that “there exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” (Proverbs 12:18) That’s all the more reason to weigh your words before speaking! True, it may take self-control to put the brakes on a juicy discussion. Still, it’s 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.” So when it comes to potentially harmful gossip, apply the apostle Paul’s advice to “make it your aim to live quietly and to mind your own business.”—1 Thessalonians 4:11.
How can you show personal interest in others and still mind your own business? Before talking about someone, ask yourself: ‘Do I really know the facts? What’s my motive in relating this information? How will my gossiping affect my reputation?’ That last question is important, for being known as a gossip says more about your character than that of the person being talked about.
When You Are the Victim
What can you do if you’re the victim of gossip? “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended,” warns Ecclesiastes 7:9. Instead, try to put the matter in perspective. The Bible says: “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.
Of course, there’s no excuse for harmful gossip. Yet, overreacting may cast a more negative light on you than the actual gossip! 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.”*
Have the good sense, then, to steer conversations away from harmful gossip. And when unkind talk involves you, have the maturity not to overreact. Let your good works speak for you. (1 Peter 2:12) If you do, you will help to preserve a good relationship with others and to maintain a good standing with God.
In some circumstances, it may be wise to find a tactful way to confront the gossiper. In many cases, though, this isn’t even necessary, as “love covers a multitude of sins.”—1 Peter 4:8.
“The one guarding his mouth is keeping his soul. The one opening wide his lips—he will have ruin.”—Proverbs 13:3.
If you hear gossip, you could respond by saying: “I don’t feel comfortable talking about this. After all, she’s not here to defend herself.”
DID YOU KNOW . . . ?
Just listening to gossip can make you partially accountable for it. By giving the gossiper permission to go on, you allow the information to spread full speed ahead!
The next time I’m tempted to spread a rumor, I will ․․․․․
If unkind things have been said about me, I will deal with the situation by ․․․․․
What I would like to ask my parent(s) about this subject is ․․․․․
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
● When would it be appropriate to talk about the interests of others?
● Have you ever been the victim of gossip, and if so, what did you learn from the experience?
● How can spreading gossip about others damage your reputation?
[Blurb on page 107]
“I really learned my lesson when the person I gossiped about found out and confronted me. There was no way to sidestep the issue! I definitely learned that it’s better to be up front with someone than to be talking behind that person’s back!”—Paula
[Picture on page 108]
Harmful gossip is like a dangerous weapon that can destroy another’s reputation