“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Perhaps you were taught this as a child. It’s a catchy little memorable line, isn’t it? The problem is, it’s not true! As a matter of fact, words have the potential to inflict major damage, and they often do.
Solomon said that a gossip’s words can wound us in deep ways, and James reminds us that the tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. At times, we’ve all felt those wounds and dealt with the toxicity of those poisonous words. Although the gossip’s word can be regretted, they cannot be reclaimed.
Gossip is a dangerously serious matter indeed.
If we will culture the habit of asking three simple questions, we can make major headway in the elimination of this dangerous vice. Each question is important, and each question should be directed toward a different person. A certain measure of courage is necessary to ask them, especially the last one. Here they are:
Ask Yourself: “Who Are the Gossips in My Life?”
You will immediately envision the answer. There are certain people in your life who tend to feed you the dirt on other people. They are all too ready to relay to you some new juicy tidbit. It seems that every conversation with these people devolves into verbal assassination of somebody’s character.
In an odd way, gossip gives these people an inflated sense of themselves, as if the denigration of another somehow elevates them. By airing someone else’s dirty laundry, they derive some kind of a cruel emotional pleasure. And the thing is, you know the people in your life that do this.
Avoid them. It will be difficult to do because they are typically manipulators. But avoid them anyway. You of course will become fodder for their future conversations with others. But avoid them still. Chalk it up to experience. Never forget, “People who will talk to you about others will talk about you to others.” Let that one sink in.
Ask the Gossip: “Why Are You Telling Me This?”
You will eliminate much gossip in your life simply by avoiding the two or three people that feed it to you. But what does one do when he finds himself in the unpalatable position of having just heard it? Sometimes people unload the information before you have a chance to stop them. What then?
Ask, “Why are you telling me this?” This question is sure to stop the gossip right in his verbal tracks. After all, he can’t answer honestly! That would make him look bad, and the impairment of image is a horrible no-no for the gossip. I guess he could quickly feign concern and label it as a “prayer concern,” but the awkward pause will have already served rebuke’s purpose.
The “why” question is a masterfully rhetorical way to say, “You’re gossiping and I don’t appreciate it.”
Ask a True Friend: “Do I Have a Tendency to Gossip?”
If we honestly desire the elimination of gossip, we must look inward as well. Sometimes I am the gossip. How easily I share negative information. How quickly I publish my findings, sometimes without even a moment’s thought about fact checking.
Let’s face it, a good deal of gossip would be eliminated if each of us were to redouble his efforts to “be slow to speak and slow to wrath.” And while listening to gossip might not be the exact same as saying it, there is not much difference between planting the seed and watering it. By listening, I water the wild seeds of gossip.
Go ahead, ask the questions. You’ll sleep better.