Close your eyes and picture a gossip. Whom do you see? I see a cluster of spinsters in old lace gloves sweetly spitting vitriol over tea. Perhaps I read too much Agatha Christie. But even if you don’t have visions of British spinsters, your vision is most likely female. Am I right? Counter to our preconceived notions, in my (unfortunate) experience there are just as many male gossips as female gossips.
The men, however, don’t have the benefit that us ladies do of hearing much direct exhortation against gossip. Can you imagine a men’s retreat in which this was the lineup?
- 9:00 a.m.: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart
- 10:30 a.m.: Strength Like Boaz
- 12:00 p.m.: Drum Beating (I assume this is what you do at any good men’s retreat)
- 1:30 p.m.: Taming Your Gossiping Tongue
Despite our feminine visions of the gossip, the Scriptures are directed as much at the male gossip (let’s call him Carl) as at the female (let’s call her Sheila), such as this passage in Proverbs:
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him…[the seventh] a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16, 19)
It’s easy to be taken off guard by Carl. Sheila gives you cues. She’ll move closer, lower her voice conspiratorially, and begin, “I love Sasha, but…” And that’s when you know it’s coming. But Carl gives you no such preparatory warnings. In a firm and perfectly audible voice, he can casually defame another’s character (or gossip, if you will).
In my limited experience, that’s Carl’s struggle. He doesn’t dish with you about situational gossip. (“Did you see how tight her pants were today?”) He goes for the character. (“Neal is a real micro-manager.” “Jessica is such a control freak.” “Patrick doesn’t take anyone’s ideas seriously but his own.”)
And it doesn’t only happen in the workplace. It can happen in ministry too, disguised as well-meaning concern. (“You know, Allan is a real nice guy, but I just feel like he really lacks discipline.”) And even in the home. (Enter any number of dinner table discussions between a man and his wife in the hearing of the children.)
Sometimes one legitimately needs to address a character issue and seek the counsel of another regarding it. But much of the time our so-called “venting” is just good ol’ fashioned down-home gossip. (Even when said in a deep and manly voice.)
Satan was the first gossip. (“Did God really say?”) And the effect gossip has today is the same as this first utterance of gossip: It drags others down with you. Cheery Chip (perhaps like Eve) might have been going on his merry way thinking cheerful thoughts, when Carl corners him and plants a different strain in his mind, maybe noting an annoyance with a friend. “Jim is really getting on my nerves. He can really be self serving sometimes.”
Now Cheery Chip has a new song playing in his head, and when he encounters Jim, his mind inevitably flashes to what Carl said. He unconsciously begins to evaluate the things Jim does in light of Carl’s words. He’d never really thought Carl was a selfish guy, but now he starts noticing and realizing that he really can be a bit of a jerk. And thus Carl’s sin, “stirring up dissension among brothers” is passed on and begins dragging down another.
I wonder, are some men blinded to the simple truth that they are gossips because they’ve never seriously considered applying the label to themselves? Are you a gossip? (Male or female?)
Since I have had the benefit of many a women’s retreat at which the schedule looked like this:
- 9:00 a.m.: Becoming a Woman After God’s Heart
- 10:30 a.m.: Faith like Ruth’s
- 12:00 p.m.: Tea Time and Lace Gloves
- 1:30 p.m.: Taming Your Gossiping Tongue
I’ll share a couple tips I’ve learned.
- Ask yourself: Does this person need to hear this? Information about anyone that could put their character in question should be on a need to know basis. In some extreme cases, one might need to be warned about someone. But these are the exception. In most cases, the other person doesn’t need to know and we are only filling our desire to talk. (This is also true of your children at the dinner table. They are learning from your words.)
- Ask: What impact will this have on my hearer? If you share, will it change your hearer’s perspective on the other person for the worse? Will you be passing your burden on to now haunt their psyche?
- Read Matthew 18:15-17. The Bible doesn’t take our lackadaisical approach to talking about others. (It doesn’t cater to our cries of “But I just really need to get this off my chest!”) If a brother has sinned against you, go talk to him alone. (It doesn’t say, “First tell your two closest friends about how annoying he is before you talk to him.”) If the situation isn’t rectified, then you can bring one or two others along to try to deal with the situation. If that doesn’t work, then bring in the church. If that doesn’t work, then treat him as you would a pagan. That’s serious stuff. The sins of a brother are treated in Scripture as serious business that need to be dealt with soberly, not as a matter for personal entertainment or venting.
- Consider: Instead of venting, what words can I say that are life-giving, not life-destroying? Before you utter a word, recite this verse to yourself and then determine if you can proceed with what you were about to say. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
Our words have transformative power. They can pass on our own mental viruses that will transform our hearers into critics and cynics. Or they can pass on truth, grace, and hope. They can build others up, or they can tear others down. Whether you’re Sheila or Carl, be of benefit to those who listen to you. God has given us amazing power with our words. Use your power for good.