Somebody you know drops by to your place for a visit and then proceeds to badmouth Mr. X or Ms. Y—after, of course, obtaining your affirmation that she is not gossiping but merely "sharing." This is what you do:
- Decide it would be impolite to tell her to shut up; besides you are a little curious to know what folks around you are saying about Mr. X or Ms. Y.
- Tell the person to her face that you'd rather not engage in the conversation, even though you know it could very well jeopardize your relationship.
- Listen with great eagerness interspersing every second statement with gushed, "Oh really?" or "How shocking!", thereby ensuring that the verbal flow of diarrhoea doesn't stop.
- Pitch in with your own contributions, embellishing all of them with copious amounts of garnish to make it more interesting.
You might find it interesting to note that the word "devil" in Greek translates as "a slanderer," so whenever we engage in a slanderous conversation we become devilish—quite literally. All slander has its roots in gossip, and there is perhaps no sin that is more obscene or more damaging, both to others and to self. To others, because it trashes reputations and ruins lives, very often of the innocent. To self, because it jeopardizes our very salvation! In the understanding of this fact, lies the antidote to gossiping, so let's take a look at a few things that Scripture says about gossip—or the careless use of the tongue:
- Jesus warns: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37)
- "If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless." (James 1:26)
- "thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God". (1 Corinthians 6:10)
- Peter too warns about the suffering that will meet the busybody, equating such people with murderers and thieves. "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker." (1 Peter 4:15) The dictionary defines a meddler as "a person who seeks confidential information about others; a snoop; a nosy person.”
- With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. (James 3:9-10)
- And if Scripture doesn't impress you, understanding this fact might: If your friend talks about somebody to you, you can bet anything you want that your friend talks about you to somebody!
Many people I know, especially those reluctant to engage in gossip, prefer to exercise option (a). The reasons are more than those stated and often includes the very real fear that upsetting the gossipmonger—usually a person with a very vindictive nature—would result in vicious attacks against oneself. So the best thing to do (they reason), is to pander to the gossipmonger. But this can have worse consequences. Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 10:28, warns: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." When you engage in a conversation that God warns against, even without contributing anything to it yourself, you are a fellow participant in a sin. So cut the person off right at the pass with a polite, but firm: I don't think I want to hear about that. And if you lose your "friend", perhaps you are better off with him/her lost. (For a guide on how to determine if someone is gossiping or not, check out Socrates' Triple Filter Test.)
If you answered yes to options (c) and (d), you are a gossipmonger yourself and need to stop. It might help you to realize that you may be engaging in gossipmongering because of a sense of low self-esteem and personal insecurity. Spend time in personal prayer, establishing a relationship with Jesus, who will give you a sense of identity and security in Him and the Holy Trinity.