Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. [Ephesians 4:29 (MSG)]
“I’ve never seen eye to eye with Mary since we were neighbors,” said the woman harshly. Her statement begged us to ask, “Why?” The woman beside her, however, refused the invitation with the comment, “Well, we can’t get along with everyone!” and promptly changed the subject. Gossip was avoided that time but it’s not always so easy; the line between conversation and gossip is a fuzzy one at best.
I asked a friend how to distinguish between gossip and conversation. She’d been doing a Bible study on Proverbs and that week’s topic had been gossip; surely she knew the difference. After telling me our words should be true, useful, respectful, necessary and kind, she added, “If we wouldn’t say it in front of the person, it shouldn’t be said!” Almost immediately, she went on to speak of someone in her study group with words that never would have been said had the woman been present! In a few short sentences, her lesson on gossip became an example of it!
Last month, we were together with four of my husband’s college friends. As expected, conversation turned to “Whatever happened to…?” and “Where’s so-and-so?” When you put the research capabilities of two lawyers and a journalist together with a few iPads, you’re bound to discover many of the answers. That friendly curiosity and reminiscing became intrusive prying when court records were found that included the juicy details of a fraternity brother’s hotly contested divorce. Yes, the records were public but we had no need to see them, less reason to discuss them and no right to gloat over them! I’m not sure when recalling their college days and catching up with one another deteriorated into gossip, but it did. Gossip has a way of sneaking its way into conversations without our even being aware of it. It was only later that afternoon that I recognized how wrong we all had been.
We can call it shooting the breeze, chewing the fat, catching up, dishing or chitchat but, when it’s about other people, most likely it’s gossip. I’m not sure why we do it. Maybe it’s herd mentality that makes us think of gossip as a way to bond with others when we speak of those not present. Perhaps we’re jealous, angry or unable to find anything interesting about which to talk. We all love a good story, especially when it reassures us that we’re not the most messed up person in the room. It seems human nature to savor bits of information about others and to want to offer a few tasty bits of our own when we can. Whatever our reasons, it isn’t right. Moreover, God doesn’t care whether the words spoken are true or false—if it’s gossip, it’s wrong! Just as we don’t have to attend every argument to which we’re asked, we don’t have to attend every gossip fest that sends an invitation. We must learn to recognize gossip’s arrival and refuse to attend its iniquitous party. We also might want to remember that old Spanish proverb: “Whoever gossips to you, will gossip about you.”