Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wagging tongues

We had an interesting topic for conversation class recently...gossip and slander. It was interesting timing since I had recently been thinking about that side of personal relationships.

When it comes down to it, living without gossip is very hard. I mean, it is a very hard habit to quit! When was the last time you had a conversation that wasn't about some absent 3rd party? Maybe the discussion started out innocently enough, but led to some kind of judgment...

In class, we agreed that it was hard to find other topics to talk about. The weather? Even if you try to stay with your own life and that of your conversation partner, many of life's problems are related to other people. For example, what affects your family members or roommate affects you as well. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We are made to live in community. continue reading/-

I find it hard to even discuss the topic of gossip without bringing up some example that I'm not at liberty to share.

My teacher tried to prompt us by asking how we would react to someone who has a reputation as a gossip. "Would you be friends with that person?" she asked. "Doesn't labeling someone as a 'gossip' count as gossiping?" I replied.

While it's difficult to pin down any "rules" for how to speak kindly about other people, I suppose it is possible to reflect on how you personally can respond.

1) What to do when a conversation leads to gossip

I can think of three solutions:

- Keep silent and offer neutral answers, thereby killing others' interest in the topic.

- Change the subject subtly or change the tone by bringing up a positive trait of the person in question.

- Declare your discomfort openly and explain why you think gossip is wrong.

I suppose it all depends on the situation, your personality, your role in the group, etc.

2) How do you respond when you learn that someone has spread rumors or gossip about you?

This is a tough one. I noticed that a popular answer, even among Christians, seems to be that you need to refute the rumors and make sure everyone knows the truth about you, so that your reputation will be protected. I am not sure if this is necessarily the most loving thing to do. In fact, I think the initial desire to defend oneself is born out of pride.

But here is what comes to mind:

- Could there be a reason for the gossip? If it is something that circulates often, could there be something in your behavior that is causing a reaction in people? It doesn't justify their speaking poorly of you, but it could still be a warning sign.

- What is the strongest witness of your character? Hopefully even if several people speak against you, there is still ample evidence as to what kind of life you lead. And your response when wronged will be a greater witness still.

-Do you have something against your brother? I don't think confrontation is always necessary, but gossip is sometimes motivated by a personal disagreement. Maybe it could all be solved by a simple apology or confession of offense. I find it hard to confront someone when I'm upset, without sounding accusatory. And if my motive is to argue, then maybe it isn't worth it. But if it can help the relationship to bring something to light, then go for it.

I haven't fully meditated on this topic to the end, so let this be a disclaimer. :) To be continued... perhaps.


  1. I'm not sure that gossip, per se, is always bad. In fact, I think that often we talk about someone and their actions or words, in an effort to understand them or the situation - not to judge or criticize. In fact, talking about a situation with a third party might actually lead to greater compassion and understanding.

    It is when we fall into criticism or relating stories in a way that is not fair, or not flattering to someone, or find ourselves speaking to a person who should not be privy to the information, that I think things go wrong. For example, in ministry, it can be very helpful to speak to a colleague about a situation. Perhaps they have background, or insights, or advice; perhaps they will pray with you or offer some support or assistance. Another appropriate thing might be to talk to someone else, relating the situation, but not naming names (for example I do this with my husband). It is when I name names to someone who has no right to know, or to a person who is a peer of the person being discussed that I feel I've slipped over the line.

    We had a deacon whose wife was so holy, such a good example. Whenever she heard something that was detrimental to another's character she would do just what you describe - say something nice or positive about them, or defend their action in some way. That not only defused the criticism, but was a good reminder to the speaker, without being an out-and-out criticism - the speaker could suddenly hear how she or he was sounding. I have tried to adapt this approach myself.

  2. I would say that "gossip" usually has a negative connotation. Either it's slanderous in some way or it involves idle talk. But I agree that it's possible to talk about someone in a positive way.

    And you're right, sometimes it is necessary to seek advice about conflict resolution, when we don't "name names." Although that may force someone to choose sides.

  3. Gossip does usually connotate negative talk...but I also have heard people call "idle chatter" so long as it involves other people or events "gossip" and that is where I think we can glean some insights. Those talks do sometimes offer temptations to say unnecessary and negative things, though.

  4. I would think that if the conversation topic were innocent, then no warning bells would go off. There would be no need to discuss the legitimacy.


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