The Grips of Gossip

Loose lips sink ships is accurate. When you share too much about a person or your feelings toward a situation or person, it can sink whatever it is you are trying to get going. It’s an easy way to wreak havoc on a relationship, organization, or a dream.

While gossip can be one of the things that sinks a ship, what it does is cause a much bigger hole in the boat, and it has a greater impact on all involved. 

Gossip grips our heart and distorts it. We may think that we are taking another’s ship down when, in reality, we have surrendered ours.

Most think of gossip as having to do with lying about another person. However, this is only one manifestation.

I like how Timothy and Kathy Keller define it,

“Gossip…is negative information that may or may not be true, designed to make the speaker and hearer feel superior to the object of the gossip.”

How often do we have a conversation and within the midst of it bring up someone who is not there? Whether consciously or not, do we elevate our self. Maybe, we are not elevating ourselves so much as placing the person to whom we speak beneath us. 

I’ve heard the defence,

“It’s not gossip because it’s true.” But as the Keller’s point out,

“Gossip is not necessarily spreading untruths. It is revealing information that should be kept confidential (Proverbs 11:13, 20:19). It is giving news about a person intended to lower him or her in the regard of the listener.”

As I point out in chapter 4 of my book Hidden Faces, gossip is a manifestation of our inadequacies. We wear our brokenness all over our face whenever we allow gossip to slither out between our lips. Each time it tells people that we cannot be trusted, we’re small, we have something to hide.

The problem is that our whole culture’s entertainment builds its empire on gossip. From TMZ to late night, to your local news, is built upon gossip. Afternoon shows built upon who said what. Have you heard politicians speak of each other? So little policy—so much chatter. It has been ingrained in us that this is how we are to interact with one another. I have been apart of many conversations where others were gossipping. I have gossiped too many times to count. It has become natural to us all. It’s Western society’s greatest skill.

In her book, Braving The Wilderness, Brené Brown speaks of the heart-wrenching pain that people experience when hearing gossip about them. Yet we still do it. We know how we would feel, but we don’t stop. We may have experienced it, yet we continue to be guilty of the same sin.

So what can we do about gossip? Are we merely condemned to a fate of slippery verbiage continually flowing from our jowls? Or can we do better? 

I believe we can, and I believe we must.

What if whenever we felt the urge to share a conveniently applicable story about someone else, we instead share about ourselves? What if we decided to only talk about people and that we were in conversation with? No talk about your mom or kids, no discussion about that celebrity or Youtube star, not your neighbour, boss, teacher, or friend. 

I bet it would revolutionize your life and change your heart. It would reveal how many of our relationships are based on what we are against rather than what we are for.

A wise man, named John Wesley, once addressed this issue in his spiritual community. It was a much different time in so many ways in the mid-1700s. Though it was different, Wesley was dealing with broken people just like us—people with hurt, pain, disappointments, inadequacies, seekers of affirmation—in the ways that count. To address the issue, Wesley gave this instruction, an instruction that we need to heed and apply.

1) ‘Now we are to talk of no absent persons, but simply of God and our own souls.’

2) ‘Let the rule of our conversation hereto be the rule of all our conversation. Let us observe it (unless in some necessarily exempt cases) at all times and in all places.

It seems sage advice. Maybe extreme, but a severe and rampid disease requires drastic measures. The grips of gossip need to be broken, and until we can learn to love our neighbour, maybe John Wesley is right. Follow these, loosen the grip. And then move to the phase of fixing your heart.

Check out the resources used in this post


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