Turning Gossip Around

gossipMark Twain said “It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.” 

Some kinds of information should not be shared.  Proverbs 17:9 reminds us that love should govern our speech:

“Whoever covers an offense promotes love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (World English Bible.)

More than hurt feelings may be at stake. For an eye-opening account of the destructive power of gossip, I recommend the historical novel, Kathleen Creek, based on real events in a Minnesota town, nearly a hundred years ago.

 Most gossipers mean no harm. Talking about people is a way to feel involved in the community. But information is powerful and our words can have far-reaching consequences. With good reason, the Bible warns us to tame our tongues. (See the following verses: Proverbs 10:19, Proverbs 21:23, Proverbs 26:20, Ephesians 4:29, James 1:26, 1 Peter 3:10, Titus 3:2. There are many more.)

Motives for gossip run the gamut from innocent to evil. The most common is the desire to make oneself important by being the bearer of interesting facts. There’s nothing unkind in this desire, but its self-centered focus can lead to bad judgement.

The next step down the scale of motives is the wish to create camaraderie with those who are present by criticizing those who aren’t. As the joke goes, “You’d better be there, or we’ll talk about you!” Camaraderie is a fine thing, but not when it’s generated at someone else’s expense.

One rung lower on the ladder, is the pleasure derived from recounting the mistakes of others. A sense of superiority arises from discussing someone else’s failings. When we’re tempted in this direction, we should remember the admonitions of scripture:

“Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” (1 Corinthians 13:6, RSV)

“Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls. Don’t let your heart be glad when he is overthrown.”(Proverbs 24:17, WEB)

Lowest on the scale of motives is the deliberate intent to cause harm by spreading damaging rumors. This arises from a very dark place in the heart and its effects can be devastating.

How should an Assertive Servant deal with gossip? Assertiveness means taking full responsibility for the words we say. Servanthood means it’s not enough to avoid doing harm; we want our words and actions to make a positive difference.

Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time…”  I don’t know what the writer meant by “redeeming the time,” but to me it says that every moment is precious and no conversation should be wasted. We should choose our words and make them count. With that objective in mind, is there ever a time when it’s okay to gossip?

Maybe we need to turn gossip on its head. What if we all competed to find good news to share? Could we create a camaraderie of admiration for good deeds?

“Did you hear about the great idea that John suggested?”

“Did you hear about the nice thing Sandi did for me?”

“Have you noticed how Barb always remembers people’s names?”

“Do you realize Ethan spends every Saturday volunteering at the hospital? He meets the most interesting people. He told me about an inspiring encounter…”

Praising others is one way to set a positive tone. Another is to promote the goals that others have shared with you:

“You know, the other day, Jessie was telling me an idea for a new format for our meetings. It sounded promising.”

“Randy is hoping for a big turnout at the event next month. Can you think of ways we can help advertise it?”

What if our attempts to stay positive are ignored? What if people insist on telling us things we have no business hearing? Does assertiveness require us to speak out against such gossip?

We have a duty to avoid participating. We should try to change the subject. If the gossipping persists, and especially if it seems ill-willed, we may need to dissent, but we have no right to be haughty. For example if the gossiper says, “Martin is the laziest guy in the neighborhood. Have you seen all the dandelions in his yard?”—a gentle reproof might be, “I’m glad you mentioned it. I need to get over there and give him a hand. He’s been having back problems, you know.” Such a response rejects the gossip without disparaging the gossiper.

There’s one instance where I think it’s important to interrupt the speaker and nip the gossip in the bud. That’s when the statement begins with, “Now don’t tell anyone, but…”  This gambit creates a pretense that our consent has been asked and given. I’m trying to build a habit of interrupting such announcements by holding up my hands and saying, “Wait, don’t tell me anything I have to keep secret. I’m no good at keeping secrets.” Although it may be rude to interrupt, it would be worse to pretend to be a willing recipient of a third party’s private information.

While rejecting gossip, we need to keep an eye on our egos. It is so easy to slip into the silent sin of smugness. (I imagine myself bragging later to someone else: “Don’t tell anyone, but Joe tried to gossip, and I set him straight!”)

All of us are sinners. We need to humbly seek each other’s help in mending our ways.

So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander… for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.  (1 Peter 2:1-3. RSV)







  1. Pamela Harrison says:

    Connie, this is such a good topic to discuss. I was hurt by gossip spread by someone I thought was a good friend. It took me a long time to heal. Your discussion about how to deal with gossip and those who spread is full of wisdom. I wish I’d had this information when I encountered it years ago. Thank you for a wonderful post.