It's a sin that we Christians engage in without realizing it. It is not widely talked about in our churches, from my experience and research. It's one of those "respectable sins." It destroys friendships and marriages. It ruins reputations. It undermines trust. It can and has landed innocent people in jail or prison for crimes they have not committed. And while we may think that engaging in this sin "meets our needs," it does not. In fact, it makes us look like jerks and hurts us, our ability to make or keep friends or a spouse, and hinders our fellowship with God. It is called gossip.
What Is Gossip?
I'm sure that all of us know that gossip is defined as betraying confidences that were told to us in secret, and spreading information on other people in malice. We may feel that we are innocent of this sin. Ah, I have come to learn, from hard experience, that gossip involves so much more! It includes the spreading of rumors that can be true or untrue, often out of boredom or a quest for "entertainment." It also includes something called "triangulation," where we experience a conflict with a person (s). We cross the line into gossip when, instead of bravely going to the person we've fallen out with to resolve the conflict, we gripe and rant to third parties about the person (s). Gossip also involves passively listening to it by reading/purchasing magazines full of gossip about celebrities, politicians, or crime cases or watching TV talk shows that exist for this same purpose. Gossip has become a thriving, multimillion dollar industry. We also passively engage in gossip when we let friends, family or others gossip to us without encouraging them to go to the person being gossiped about, or just ignoring it.
Why Do We Gossip?
First of all, I think that we may often unintentionally, whether Christian or non-Christian, gossip because of our insecurities and because our own identities are rooted in something other than Christ. Hearing and saying bad things about others may "make us feel better" about ourselves for a little while. We gossip about others because going to others we fall out with can be very challenging and the other person may not even hear us out. So, in hurt, fear and insecurity, we gripe to third parties and seek support from them, forgetting that a third party can't be part of the solution to an interpersonal conflict. We often gossip because of boredom and because hearing bad things about others, especially criminals, politicians and celebrities, seems to be more fun than to hear good things about others who are laboring to make a difference in our world. Truth and positive stories, frankly, seems more "boring" than rumors and bad news. Also, they have a way of convictins us of our own mediocre lives while hearing bad things makes us "feel better" about ourselves.
What Does Gossip Look Like Online?
While we gossip as much as ever offline, gossip has migrated to cyberspace. We online users gossip when we use emails, social networks, inbox messages, blogs, texts, or other means to spread bad things about other people. We gossip when we "like," and follow pages, blogs and websites that have been set up for the purpose of posting bad things about people, especially public figures. We add to gossip when, when a social networking user says bad things about another user to us, we take the person's word for it and "unfriend" or block the person being gossiped about. Gossiping has no doubt been behind countless incidents of online "unfriending" and blocking of social networking users, cyber-bullying, and even cyber-crimes. I have reason to believe that I have lost many Facebook friendships because mutual friends of users who had "deleted" me, probably "warned" these mutual friends about me. We can avoid much online gossip, being gossiped about or gossiping ourselves, by simply not posting anything personal about ourselves online! Even if we think we have control of our privacy settings, we can't assume that our information is safe!
What Are Forms Gossiping Takes Among Us Christians?
Just take our prayer groups. We Christians may think that we are serving God and helping others when we may be doing crossing lines we ought to never cross. We may know about people's personal problems which may have been shared with us in confidence. We may, thinking we are helping our friends, family members or others, share very personal matters for prayer without the other person's knowledge or permission. This becomes gossip in instances like this and is no doubt the most common form of "Christian gossip" there is. We in the Church add to gossip in a huge way when we don't give believers or non-believers the feeling that we are a safe place where they can divulge their spiritual and emotional problems without being judged. Let's not be surprised if our fellowships become unhealthy settings where gossip festers. We Christian couples and parents open the door to gossip when we discourage honest expression of our feeling and needs, and we allow our families to become similarly unhealthy, and our homes ones where secrets and gossip flourish.
How Can We Stop Gossiping?
First of all, we need to realize that none of us are immune to this often-subtle sin. I just engaged in this sin online a few days ago when I went through a lost friendship that caused me much personal pain. Unable to get a hearing with the person involved, I joined a closed Facebook group and posted about my situation and what went on that hurt me. Another user saw my posts and, while she sympathized with me at first, she took me to task and told me that I was talking about the person, treating her as badly as she did me, and that I was initiating drama and she herself was not going to be drawn into it. This user was right about me crossing the line into gossip. Much gossip would end if we stopped listening to others' gossip and ignore it, discourage it, and even cut ties with the person if needed. Much gossip would also end if we would resolve conflicts as they come up, where there is a far better chance of saving relationships. Much gossip would be ended if we would fill our time with serving God and others with our gifts, where we would not have time to be parties to media gossip or spread rumors. Aside from all the incredible personal pain gossip causes, it's a huge waste of time!
Let's give each other and ourselves the gifts of trust and restraint in our words. What do you think?
The photo is courtesy of MorgueFile.com, is by "click," and can be found here.