Thursday, August 3, 2017

Why Gossip and What Is It?

Gossip. Why do we go there?

And what, exactly, is gossip? answers the first question:

“Gossipers often have the goal of building themselves up by making others look bad and exalting themselves as some kind of repositories of knowledge.”

Once we understand the intent behind gossip, we can better notice it in its various forms.

We can usually recognize what is traditionally understood to be gossip:

A person responds with sour-grape-comments to someone else’s success.

A person is constantly criticizing other people’s tastes, ways of doing things, and personality. We’ve all had to sit through the running commentary—gossip—of a perpetually embittered relative at a holiday gathering. Everyone expects it and no one is surprised by it. In fact, we tend to separate ourselves from this relative in our own minds, quite sure that we are not like that.

But what about the intent mentioned in the definition, that gossip includes those, “exalting themselves as some kind of repositories of knowledge”?

I refer to this as “newsy” gossip, which readily comes off as socially acceptable. You know, the conversations that innocently (we like to tell ourselves) begin with,

“Did you hear that Catherine is pregnant?”


“Guess what? Bill lost his job.”


“The Fitzgeralds are moving.”


“Fred and Wilma are getting divorced.”


“Ted and Nancy’s kid is getting married,” “Sam bought a new car,” “Sinead is living in a tiny house” and on and on.

Three issues inherent in this type of conversation arise when:

  1.  We spill other people’s news that they are in a position to tell themselves and have not had a chance to tell yet or are not yet ready to tell yet or have a special time and place in mind to share their news.

      2. The “news” we share goes beyond stating a fact:

  “Fred and Wilma are getting divorced.”


 “Fred and Wilma are getting divorced. I heard that they 
hadn’t been getting along in years. He never was my favorite person. And I can’t imagine what it was like to live with her. I mean, you’d think they had everything, but neither was ever happy.”

  The objective statement was only a pretense to get to the 
nitty gritty subjective accusations and assumptions about Fred and Wilma’s perceived character faults. 

     3.  What may, in truth, be a simple fact, was told in confidentiality

 Even if we do not go beyond the facts, if we repeat 
someone’s news which was told to us in confidence then “Janet got engaged yesterday” indeed becomes gossip when we, who were trusted not to say anything, go ahead and do it anyway. The tip-off to this one is usually four little words: “Don’t tell anyone but.” 
    And even if someone did not say “Please don’t repeat this,” it goes without saying that integrity will honor their choice to share their news at their discretion (even if, in our minds, they are taking “too long” to tell their news. The timing of other’s news is not our concern).

In the first and third situations, the person has assigned themselves to be the Town Crier for the extended family, office, dormitory, neighborhood or church. They co-opt other people’s news, quickly and eagerly divulging it within a mutual circle of connected people. 

Essentially, they steal what belongs to another.

Think about it.

Is our niece’s pregnancy our news to announce to mutual friends and relatives?

Is the fact that a nephew just bought a sporty Subaru WRX our news to own and disseminate?

Are the details of our next-door neighbor’s kitchen remodel ours to exposit at the neighborhood book club?

This form of gossip can be especially infuriating within families where one relative may live out of town and a piece of news that gets told to one family member spreads like wildfire before the source of the news can personally inform grandparents and others in the family with whom they are relationally close.

How absolutely disappointing for a grandchild to have his cousin announce to their mutual grandparents his acceptance to a certain college. How sad for a niece to be intercepted by a grandmother and not be able to announce her own pregnancy to aunts and uncles.

We’re seeing this same sort of frenzied need to “scoop” in the press, to the point that the rule now is “report first, retract later.”

In the second issue I raise in my list of three above, the gossip isn’t merely looking to feed their ego by being the king or queen of the all-points-bulletin, but in addition, they need to assuage a very low self confidence with addendums to the facts (if, in fact, they even get those correct).

So they embellish, use hyperbole, undermine people’s abilities and talents, and posit their many speculations upon the details of a person or situation. In this, they provide a dramatic stage on which they can be the Star.

The Bible calls out these three types of talk, calling those who initiate and participate in it as being “idlers,” “gossips,” “busybodies,” “slanderers,” “babblers and meddlers.”

In fact, it holds gossips right up there with murderers (Romans 1:29-32).

So how do we keep ourselves from gossip, and how do we know when “talking something over” with someone is not gossip? That will be the next stop on this Biblical tour of gossip.

copyright Barb Harwood

“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets,
But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” Proverbs 11:13

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” Proverbs 20:19

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:28-32

“At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention.” 1 Timothy 5:13

“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” James 3:5-10

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