I’ve been a little obsessed lately with the nature of gossip and wondering if perhaps a redefine of what it really is might be in order?
Like you, I grew up being told that gossip was “Telling lies to hurt people”. Though certainly true, this definition is not robust enough to deal with the true nature of gossip I think, it’s slipperier than that.
Firstly people who tell lies rarely admit that they do.
Why is that? Well, the first lie a liar has to swallow is that they’re not one of course! As long as there is a seed of truth the rest of the addendums can be ignored because they originate from a document we like to think of as “fact”. Adding a little sugar to the coffee is only natural.
The problem is that real issues are quite simple once they’re boiled down, but addendums are what add spice to an otherwise dull existence of owning up to one’s mistakes.
Example. I can’t recall ever stopping in the middle of an argument with my wife and saying “I’M JUST MAD BECAUSE I WAS WRONG AND NOW I CAN’T SEEM TO STOP ARGUING AND I’M MAD ABOUT THAT TOO!”. Or “I’M NOT GETTING WHAT I WANT! IF YOU WOULD GIVE IT TO ME I THINK I WOULDN’T BE MAD ANYMORE BUT I’M NOT SURE!”
It would be boring to be that honest, hence the production that follows.
“Telling lies to hurt someone.”
If admitting to lying is difficult, we can’t even admit we hurt anyone anymore. It’s always “I’m sorry you felt that way”… translated “If there wasn’t something wrong with you you wouldn’t have been hurt by what I just did”. Great. Now I feel even better.
Heck, admitting to wanting to hurt someone is almost taboo these days. I wonder when it will become fashionable again to openly say the real reason you and I hurt people: We wanted to. Duh.
Sure there’s the odd time someone picks up something we didn’t lay down because they were hoping we would, but my intent in doing something wrong IS TO HURT. That’s why it’s wrong in the first place.
So let’s graduate, shall we, from the kindergarten version of gossip and enter into a realm that could change the outcome of, say, the relationships that matter most to you in the world?
Let’s add an element of scary and throw in a different feasible definition of gossip. What if it’s not only speaking lies to hurt, but more along the lines of:
“Needless EVALUATION of things I have no business evaluating?” Oh, I do that fifty times a day.
“Can you believe the way Rob is raising those boys!!?”
“Can you believe she wore THAT to school?”
“I wouldn’t have bought that car. What a waste of money!”
“My boss is an idiot!”
“Can you believe what my husband did?”
The human heart is rife with the foundation of Insecurity. We all have a burning desire to appear desirable to those around us, and the shortcut to the temptation of Gossip Island is like shooting fish in a barrel.
There are a couple of ways to be desirable in my mind:
- I can work hard on myself and be the best I can be and let you decide if you like me or not, or
- I can destroy my competition with a few well placed phrases and appear better to you.
Way 1 takes a lifetime and Way 2 takes about fifteen seconds.
There are another couple of lies we have to believe about gossip for us to keep doing it, and they are as follows:
- It’s not gossip if it’s true.
- It’s not gossip if I’m trying to help.
Wrong and wrong.
The truth has nothing to do with gossip. In fact, the truth IN gossip is what makes it so tempting in the first place! The nature of truth sets you free (Bible), but gossip never set anything free because the foundation of gossip is an untruth: “I have the RIGHT TO SPEAK when I don’t”. The truth is that gossip is bad and hurts people including you. Every single time.
Which must mean that if I gossip I’m not trying to help either, I’m just trying to help myself.
Having said that, when my teenage daughter accuses me of gossiping about her to her mother (she wouldn’t but….) my response would be a broad smile and “Oh sweetheart. Your life IS MY BUSINESS! Get used to it.”
But gossip never simplifies issues. The author of Proverbs 26:20 says “When you run out of wood the fire goes out: when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.”
I have a decent brain (I think:), but when I was young I used nearly all of my horsebrainpower trying to figure out everybody else’s lives before I came to realize the truth:
You’re not responsible to change what you’re not responsible for (and people generally won’t let you anyways), and
The great trap to distract me from changing things I’m actually responsible for is to try and change what I’m not.
Oh and my mom always told me to mind my own business and just take the trash out because she was mom and I wasn’t.