What I’ve Learned About Gossip

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We all know we shouldn’t gossip, yet there is something about human nature that seems to make it impossible to resist. Perhaps it is the need for validation and comradery or maybe it’s just anger and frustration. Whatever the case, we are all guilty at times of engaging in this destructive habit that can sweep through relationships like a category 5 hurricane, destroying friendships, slandering innocent people, creating strife and division, and generally leaving chaos, disorder and devastation in it’s wake.Over the years, I have learned many things about gossip and slander, although I’m quite certain that I still have miles to go. I want to share some of these lessons with you in hopes that others may benefit from my experience. This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure that in the years to come, it will expand more than I can imagine.
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1. Don’t Assume Anything
The person who tells one side of a story seems right, until someone else comes and asks questions.  (Proverbs 18:17, NCV)
We’ve all been here, right? A friend comes to us with an iron-clad case against someone they are angry with. We listen to all of the scandalous details and come to a conclusion about the situation. Most often, we sympathize with the friend telling the story and become outraged with the accused. What we seldom realize, though, is that when we judge a situation, of which we have no first-hand knowledge, we have already made many assumptions.We have assumed that our friend has told us the whole story and been completely honest.Often, we have assumed that our past experiences with the accused are indicative of the current situation. Sometimes, this will prove to be true – i.e. a person’s character seldom varies from situation to situation, yet we are still assuming without actually knowing. Additionally, not only are there times when a situation departs from the norm, but people can and do change, so it is not fair to judge someone based on their past.The number of assumptions that we make without realizing it can be significant, and yet, there is really no way to judge a situation fairly unless and until we have done a thorough investigation, heard both sides of the story and taken everything into account and even then, as every parent well knows, very often it will still be impossible to determine the truth.This is why our judicial system is set up the way it is in America with a police investigation in the case of a criminal trial, attorneys for both sides in order to ensure that the whole story is told, a judge to keep things fair and balanced and a jury that has to come to a unanimous decision before the accused is convicted and punished. Even with these checks and balances, there are still times when innocent people are convicted and the guilty go free.

  2. Don’t allow your emotional baggage to influence your attitude toward the accused

We’ve all been through difficult circumstances in our lives. We’ve been hurt, used, taken advantage of, and neglected. It started for most of us in elementary school and only got worse with age. I was always told that once I got out of high school and into the real world, things would be better. Well, that is most definitely not the case.

People are people. Some hurt us intentionally and some unintentionally. There are cruel people, evil people, and then there are the rest of us. We try our best, but sometimes we just don’t think and others are hurt because of it. We go on with our lives, having no idea that there are some in our past that are carrying their own emotional baggage because of our negligence, thoughtlessness or even a complete misunderstanding, over which we had no control.

Because of all of this pain lying below the surface, when someone gossips to us about something that resonates with that pain, we relate to it and we believe it without ever finding out the other side of the story. Sometimes we are judging someone we know and other times we are judging a stranger. Either way, it is unfair and we would do better to just stay out of it all together.

 3. Don’t participate in gossip unless you are willing to be a part of the solution

It is very common to think that rather than participating in gossip, we are simply acting as a confidante (or prayer partner in Christian circles) to a close friend. This is a mistake and here’s why:

 We are not God and thus not able to keep our emotions, judgments, and critical attitudes in neutral.

If we have the personality type, relationship with both parties, natural abilities, etc. to help with reconciliation and peace making, then by all means, we must get involved! If not, then it is just a set up for disaster. Our opinions of one or both people will be tainted, relationships will be damaged by underlying strife, and there is the possibility that innocent people will be irreparably slandered, especially if we pass the gossip on to even one person. (Remember the telephone game?)There will be instances when listening to only one party is unavoidable. In these cases, the best way to handle gossip is to offer advice as to how the situation might be resolved and encourage our friend to go to the person they are angry with and work it out.
 telephone
4. Don’t allow attractive personalities to cloud your judgment

Proverbs tells us that charm is deceitful. This is possibly never as true as when gossip is involved. A charming person can, with smooth words, a sweet voice and a smile on their face, turn nearly everyone against the object of their contempt without anyone knowing it happened. If you have ever been the victim of such a charmer, you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t yet, chances are you will before long.

Charming people are easy to love and even easier to believe. We very rarely see them coming and it is generally a long time (if ever) before we discover that we were deceived. I have known the pain that comes from being the victim of this type of personality and the betrayal of those that were deceived as well as experienced the regret that comes with being deceived by a charmer, just to later realize how very wrong I was. Both are heart-wrenching and so difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

This is why we must constantly guard our hearts against the deceptiveness of charm, even (sometimes especially) when we are convinced that someone is telling us the most sincere and honest truth we’ve ever heard.

 

charm-is-deceitful
5. Do be proactive in speaking life and grace into every situation

This can be a very good way to prevent gossip and even repair the damage that gossip has done to relationships within families or circles of friends. When negativity or gossip comes up, we should strive to find words of grace to speak into the situation. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best and not the worst. Guard our own tongues from spreading gossip when we are angry. Speak words that bring life into relationships, rather than words that can kill relationships. (There are exceptions to this. See Romans 16:17-20 and Titus 3:10-11.)

 6. Do investigate thoroughly when you are in a situation where you must judge

Sometimes, by virtue of our position, we have no choice but to judge. In these situations, it is imperative that we investigate the situation as fully as possible. We should aim to get all of the facts and any evidence that will help us to judge fairly and spend time considering the situation carefully and away from all the noise and chatter. For Christians, it is also crucial to pray and ask God for discernment and then wait for Him to answer.

 

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If we would all follow these steps, as well as recognizing gossip for the danger that it is to peace and harmony in relationships, I believe this world would be a much better place and we would all be walking around with a lot less pain and regret.

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