I’m still working on a couple of stubborn projects in the background. Meanwhile, here is this tidbit that has been on my mind. Needless to say, “Hannah” and “Alex” are not the real names of my friends.

I was recently talking with my friend Hannah, and I mentioned our mutual acquaintance, Alex. Neither Hannah nor I have known Alex for very long, but I think highly of him. I like the affection he shows his wife. I like the tenderness he shows his kids. I like the casual kindness he shows towards people he doesn’t know very well.

So I was surprised when Hannah suddenly told me a story about a time when Alex was rude to her. I countered, mildly, with a story that put Alex in a good light; and Hannah replied with a second story that put Alex in a bad light. She was determined to show me that I shouldn’t like him nearly so much as I did.

It worked. Ever since then, without wanting to, I’ve looked at Alex differently. Hannah said he was self-absorbed, so now when I see him speak his mind without thinking about it — a trait that I appreciate, because to me, it means he is guileless — I wonder whether it’s not a vice instead of a virtue. Maybe he should think more and speak less. Suddenly his simplicity looks like arrogance. Suddenly, without wanting to, I like him less.

I’m not shocked when people are rude to each other, because I understand that nobody has perfect control over their tongue — but still, everybody knows that being rude is bad. But I was shocked and disturbed at what Hannah did to me and to Alex, even though I have doubtless done the same. I was shocked and disturbed because she had no idea that there was anything wrong with what she said. She didn’t understand the power that she had over my perceptions.

So, as a public service announcement to those who have never been taught about gossip, here is why I believe that it is evil.

  • When you say bad things about somebody, especially somebody that I don’t know very well, it makes it more likely that I will grow to hate them a little more. You are teaching me how to hate that person.
  • When you say good things about somebody, especially somebody that I don’t know very well, it makes it more likely that I will grow to love them. You are teaching me how to love that person better.
  • I am good at discovering the evil in other people. I don’t need your help. If it’s true that they’re bad, I’ll probably find out for myself.
  • I’m not nearly as good at discovering the good in other people. I need your help to do that. If it’s true that they’re good, I might never notice it unless you show me.

Please don’t gossip at me, and please call me out on it if I do it at you.

12 Comments on “Gossip”

  1. Cordelia says:

    Such a good point! I know that I am (against my will) highly influenced by the opinions of others, and this post explained to me a significant reason why my own opinions can appear to vacillate‚Ķespecially when I can’t explain to myself why. A great explanation of gossip!

  2. Lori says:

    YES!!! No matter how hard I try to make up my own mind about someone, it’s hard to not be influenced by what I’ve heard, for better or for worse. One of my Bible heroes is an un-named person in the book of Ruth who told Boaz “good things” about Ruth before Boaz met her. It would have been easy to gossip about the foreign woman who returned with Naomi; but instead someone said good things and Boaz was already kindly disposed toward her before they ever met. Since coming to understand this, I make every effort to do the same; it can make a big difference in other peoples’ relationships.

  3. richard says:

    Or in other words “backbiting”.

  4. Thomas D says:

    Very good post, Mr Prever — and yes, we think little of how our “idle words” subtly change the fabric (and perhaps not so subtly) of human relationships. How well you state what needs to be stated!

  5. Alexis says:

    This is really good, Joey. I often think of your statement that, if you don’t feed the lizard, the lizard dies. How difficult it is to stop gossiping — but once you stop, it’s so easy to say to people “I don’t want to gossip about Teresa” or simply “I’m just not going to talk about that.” People stop coming to you for gossip sessions. Your point about saying good things about others has given us something to think about, maybe work on for Advent. Thank you!

    1. richard says:

      The art of changing the subject.

  6. Becky Duncan says:

    At the barn where my horses board there is a man who used to greet me with the question, “So, what’s the gossip?” I would tell him about a newly arrived horse, or a horse that just recently achieved a breakthrough in its training, or won a ribbon at a show. Finally he said, “I’m not asking about gossip about the horses.” I said, “Oh, I’m not good at the other kind.” Now he doesn’t ask me.

  7. Stefka says:

    I have a (now former) friend who I have always known was a gossip, and always knew she exaggerated for effect. I couldn’t break her of it, so I took everything she said with a large block of salt. And I knew that since she was willing to talk TO me about other people (no matter how unresponsive I was), she was likely also talking ABOUT me to other people.

    Oh, how painfully right I was. She recently started dumping friends left and right for a variety of spurious causes, and one of the first to fall called me and broke the barrel open. Not only had she been exaggerating, she had been telling outright lies to all of us, about all the rest of us. She had been contemptuous of those she said she loved, and poisoning friendships for at least 15 years. Some of the lies were bitter ones, indeed. And even knowing her personal history is not making it easier to forgive.

    Only now are we all talking to each other and finding out the truth. A lot of damage has been done, but a funny thing has happened: we’re rallying in support of one another. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  8. mariecarolk says:

    This is splendidly articulated. And I feel much the same. Oddly enough, I don’t recognize some of those feelings until you or someone else names them as something that they have felt personally. So thank you for helping me name some feelings I have, especially concerning gossip!


  9. eilyn says:

    i often go to confession. i started realizing how bad it really was after watching the movie “doubt” you must watch it. it touches on exactly what you are saying here.

  10. eilyn says:

    i meant to say i often go to confession for that sin. sigh…it’s late i should be sleeping. sorry.

  11. Emma says:

    Confronting and a clear way of filtering comments about others: thanks.

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