“Surely my lips shall not speak unrighteousness, neither shall my tongue utter deceit” (Job 27:4).
1. Gossip (the first post in a 3 part series)
“…prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to desensitization toward violence in real life. The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behaviors in children.” (1)
“70% of 18 to 24 year old men visit pornographic sites in a typical month. 66% of men in their 20s and 30s also report being regular users of pornography.” (2)
67% of women’s conversations are gossip, according to the Social Issues research Center. (3)
What do these three seemingly random bits of statistical data have in common? What in the world is this post going to be about? Do I at least have you curious?
Did you ever hear the expression “you are what you eat?” I always thought it was a silly saying, especially because if I could choose to be any food I would definitely be a cupcake…or a bag of popcorn. I know its supposed to remind us that we will only be as healthy as the food we ingest is good, but I still always thought it was an amusing way to get to me to eat my veggies (who wants to be a brussel sprout anyway?). I would like to submit to you that there is a better maxim for us to keep in mind: What goes in, must come out. Now, stop right there – I am NOT talking about food here. I am talking about what we consume from the culture. What we ‘take in’ from various media, magazines, books and friends. Ah! Now the apparently random statistics above make more sense! For the purposes of this post I’d like to focus on the third statistic. The one about gossip. (Yes I am going in reverse order here, but in the mean time if you’d like to read some of my thoughts on pornography, check out The Pornified Culture)
Gossip? Gossip? Why should we care about gossip? Its pretty normal…right? Unfortunately, yes, it does seem normal – or perhaps normal isnt the right word. Mainstream. Prevalent. Those are better words. Gossip is interesting because it is so easy to forget that it is a sin. Its wrong, and its evil. “There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; A heart that plots wicked schemes, feet that run swiftly to evil, the false witness who utters lies, and he who sows discord among brothers” Proverbs 6:16-19. That’s a pretty hefty condemnation from Proverbs! What strikes me is that of the “seven abominations” at least 3 of them have to do with talking.
“But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” James 3:8.
“For, “He who would love life, and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit” 1 Peter 3:10.
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, Slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;
they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these things but also approve of those who practice them” Romans 1:28-32.
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” James 1:26.
These verses are just a few that illustrate that God is serious about gossip. Now, lets clarify what gossip is and what it isn’t. Gossip is not about fact. Gossip is more akin to slander. Slander, according to Mirriam Webster’s Dictionary, is “malicious talk; to spread damaging information; to defame; to speak ill of.” Gossip, according to Funk and Wagnal’s dictionary means “idle or malicious talk about others.” Both definitions use the word ‘malicious.’ Gossip is ‘not nice.” It makes another person look bad – its damaging. Gossip is not concerned with the Truth.
When we speak about others behind their backs, and we don’t think they would like to overhear – well then there’s a good chance you are gossiping. Some good questions to ask yourself are “Am I spreading the Truth by telling this, or am I spreading what I think might be the Truth? Is this a rumor I overheard? Would the person I am speaking about be upset if she/he overheard me?” If the answer to any of these is yes, you might want to stop yourself because there is a good chance you are gossiping.
Gossip can be hard to pin down. Sometimes we don’t realize we are engaging in it. After all, us girls like to talk (and talk and talk and talk) and sometimes its easier to talk about other people than it is to talk about anything else. That is why we must be choosy about who our friends are – and how we interact with acquaintances. If I’ve been insinuating anything in this post thus far it is that we tend to become what we consume – if we surround ourselves with gossipy people, there’s a good chance we too will fall into gossip. This is one area where we must be careful about what and who we expose ourselves too. Being surrounded by those who engage in gossip tends to desensitize our consciences to it – making it all the harder to recognize and avoid.
So what do you do? Try to only say positive things about another person when in conversation, or relay only facts. For instance, “Mary” might be sick, and that’s not a positive thing, but it is a fact. Now, if you tell someone that “Mary” is sick and you think she’s sick because you heard she was skinny dipping in the neighbor’s pool…well then you are treading into gossipy territory. It can be a fine line sometimes, and that’s what makes it tricky – but the devil is in the details – literally. It’s not wrong to talk about how someone made you feel. Your feelings are totally legitimate. What is not legit is speaking maliciously about the person you feel wronged you. It is possible to be upset about what someone may have done to you and not gossip about them. Remember, gossip is slanderous – damaging and malicious. In the Bible it is often likened to murder – except its murder with the tongue. Less grisly, less glitzy, but just as wrong. Gossip tends to carry with it a judgement of some sort. Christ told us that we are never to judge another person – that’s His job. We are to give people the benefit of the doubt, and hope that at their True Judgement they end up with the sheep and not the goats. When we feel tempted to Gossip perhaps we’d do well to instead say a quick prayer for the would-be victim of our verbal murder. This has the double benefit of being good for their salvation and ours. This will also retrain your consciences to be able to better detect gossip, so you can avoid participating in it.
It may feel uncomfortable to you if some of your friends are gossiping and you are part of the conversation. Do you say something? Do you just stay quiet and hope they change the subject? Do you walk away? Although this is an uncomfortable position to be in, its important to remind yourself that gossip is a sin; serious enough to merit a place in the Ten Commandments (Number 8 – Thou Shalt Not bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor – is about lying and gossiping). Serious enough to be mentioned by St. Paul when he named the qualities of people who have turned to evil ways. If your friend was about to commit a murder, would you yell at them to stop? If your friend was going to rob a bank, would you try to talk them out of it? Why then would you stay silent if they were engaging in gossip?
Satan loves gossip. It seems like such an “innocent” sin. It’s not any of the “big ones,” like adultery or murder, and it doesn’t leave any visible aftermath, so it seems relatively harmless. It’s not. Gossip is an attack on the goodness and dignity of another person. This is serious stuff! Each and every person is made in the image and likeness of God, our Heavenly Father. Gossiping about someone is like throwing mud at God. Its sullying the dignity of another. God takes this very personally. Gossip is a surreptitious soul killer. It drives a wedge between you and God’s Grace and when this happens you are more vulnerable to temptations on other fronts. How many of us have weakened our souls to the point where we don’t recognize sin!?
How do we remedy this? How do we retrain our souls to inform our intellects of the danger of gossip? It starts with a good confession. Getting rid of all the spiritual “gunk” that is blocking God’s Grace is the first step. Once you have entered into a state of Grace yourself (what we call it when you have confessed your sins, received absolution, and have no sin on your soul) you will already be a little better equipped to confront a weakness to gossip. The rest is all about training. Try to imagine your conscience as a muscle – if it’s exercised regularly it gets stronger. If you train it right, with lots of “practice” then muscle memory will kick in.
I used to ice skate. I had to practice form over and over again – skating in half circles called “edges” with my hands and arms and head and neck and legs all in the right position. It was tedious. It seemed like overkill sometimes, and it got boring. However, when it came time to move onto trickier things, my arms and legs and head and neck would “automatically” go into the correct position. This muscle memory was ‘programmed’ into me by the practice and repetition. I went to a skating rink about 2 years after I gave up the sport, and wouldn’t you know it, when I stepped onto the ice, it “came right back.” That muscle memory is a powerful thing! Granted I was a little rusty, but I knew with a little practice I could be right back where I had been – and better.
It’s the same with our consciences. We need to create some spiritual muscle memory when it comes to gossip. We need to train our consciences to recognize gossip and to catch ourselves before we participate. It may be hard at first, it may take a concentrated effort on your part, but it will get easier as your conscience becomes accustomed to its new “muscles.” Virtue take time to build – that’s what your conscience is building – virtue. Grace is like the spiritual spinach to your soul’s Popeye. Virtue is the name of the muscle you are building. Vice is what you are trying to rid yourself of – the toxin that is poison to your spiritual muscle growth. Vice is what weakens us into sin. In some cases gossip is more of a vice – in order to be a mortal sin an offense must be a serious matter, you must know its wrong, and you must engage in it willingly. Circumstantially, gossip may not fall into the category of a mortal sin if you didn’t know it was a serious offense against God and others. But now you have read this post, and now you know it is serious – so you have no excuse!
Blaise Pascal once said, “”I maintain that, if everyone knew what others said about him, there would not be four friends in the world.” It’s up to us to prove him wrong. Its starts with each and every one of us. We must resist the urge to slander others with our words – to verbally kill them. We must lovingly assist our friends and family to recognize how they may be unwittingly engaging in gossip. We must build up the Kingdom of God, by not tearing each other down. It starts with you. I leave you with this thought from St. Paul to the Philippians:
Finally brothers, [sisters] whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is JUST, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is GRACIOUS, if there is any EXCELLENCE and if there is anything worthy of PRAISE, think about these things. Phil 4:8
Until next time, May God Bless your beautiful feminine hearts.
(This post is the first in a 3 part series).
1) 2000 joint Statement from the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Behavior, qtd in: Plugged In Online, 20th Anniversary Magazine pg 8, Courtesy of Focus on the Family and Thriving Family Magazine, November/December 2010