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We are inundated with multiple streams of information about the lives of people we do not know. Gossip pages are popular for sharing intimate secrets on a celebrity and we are right there to take it all in. We have become accustomed to gossip as normative conversation and forgotten the dangers it ensues. Why are we so interested in this type of information and what is the allure of gossip that draws us in?
The allure of gossip
The words of a gossip are like tasty bits of food. People like to gobble them up”.Proverbs 18:8
Even as Christians, we regularly entertain gossip because we like to be ‘in the know’. In having the latest information on the happenings around us and being knowledgeable about people’s business despite not knowing them personally. Whilst we may not consider ourselves gossips, in general, we have to be mindful about what we do with the information we encounter. The habit of gossiping can easily develop from idle conversations about seemingly unimportant issues.
Furthermore, we must be careful about the words we speak because of the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21). In James 3:5, the tongue is described as “a fire” that once sparked can be as destructive as a forest set ablaze. A fire that can corrupt the whole body and influence the course of one’s life (vs. 6). We are warned about the “untameable tongue”:
but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poisonJames 3:8
There are no positives to gossip. With the power of an untamed tongue, how much more dangerous are the words of a gossip when ignited. Once the fire of gossip starts, it is hard to put out. Gossip is damaging to reputations and character.
Warnings on gossip
It is true that not all sparks start fires, so not every conversation or discussion about another person leads to gossip. However, we need to recognise the conversations that have the potential to turn into gossip and know how to deal with the difference. A few verses in the bible that can help, as they display the actions of a gossip, are found in Proverbs:
A gossip betrays confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secretProverbs 11:13
Gossip happens behind backs, in secret and whisperers; it is not an in front confrontation on an issue. If the topic is centred around a person that is not an active participant in the discussion, it could be gossip.
A false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the communityProverbs 6:19
Gossip is typically rooted in lies, falsified narratives and false witnesses. If the stories being shared have not been confirmed as true, it could be gossip.
A twisted person spreads rumours; a whispering gossip ruins good friendshipsProverbs 16:28
Gossip is hurtful, filled with malice, wicked intent and slander. If the words used are negative, insulting or degrading another person, it could be gossip.
The bible counsels against such things (Col. 3:8, 1 Pet. 2:1, Eph. 4:31) and as we have become new in Christ, we should “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). This involves a continuous renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2) and an active decision to move away from gossip.
Dealing with gossip
It is tempting to engage in gossip or innocently enter conversations that turn into gossip. However, we are warned multiple times in the Bible about this type of behaviour. We must make a conscious effort to avoid slanderous talk, malicious words and those who participate in these types of interactions. Here are a few ways to do so:
Change the conversation – Oftentimes, we can be in normal conversations only for it to take a turn towards gossip. In those moments, we can quickly steer the topic in a different direction with a new edifying focus.
Express your discomfort – Nevertheless, when your attempts at new topics have faltered, it could be time to express your concerns, especially amongst friends. A simple “I do not feel comfortable talking about this” should help to send across your message.
Walk away from the conversation – Ultimately, if you can see that no good will come of the conversation, simply walk away from it. Whether this is physically, walking away in real life, or virtually, by exiting the chat, closing the app or unfollowing the people. We need to have a firm stance that displays ‘we will not engage’.
Primarily, we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves and gossip does not reflect that. It should have no place in our conversations. We should use our conversations to edify and in sharing the good news, not gossip.