When I worked in an office, I once gave up Gossip for Lent. It was harder than I anticipated. In some respects, gossip is an essental part of working in an office. It serves as an information source, albiet not an overly reliable one. In my position, though, we also sometimes were able to use the office grapevine to our advantage, leaking bits of information when appropriate, or quelching unsubstantiated rumors.
And then there was the real gossip. The gossip that, I found, made some days at the office just interesting enough to warrant coming back the next day. That gossip was not particularly, um, moral. (At the same time, some of this gossip was also important. The day a coworker got beat to a bloody pulp – literally – in the office parking garage, the company said nothing. It was through the rumor mill that we learned that the gentleman who had been beaten up was sleeping with a coworker and it was his lover’s husband who did the beating. Without THAT tidbit, many of us would have been a bit afraid of the parking garage, believing the crime to be a random act of violence.)
I came to realize, during those months, that there are really different types of gossip. Or, more accurately, there is one type of gossip and other things that are more accurately defined as information sharing or support/advice seeking.
So, what is gossip? Sharing information in a way that is not intended to be helpful. Spreading stories, whether true or not, that are not your business. Telling others news that will hurt others. I found an article that says, “The Hebrew word translated “gossip” in the Old Testament is defined as one who reveals secrets going about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.”
Gossip is clearly not encouraged by the Bible, nor by polite society. I have known some serious gossips in my time, and I always walk away from conversations wondering what they say about me when I’m not around. I sincerely do not want others to think this of me.
But what is not gossip? This is really what started this post. A recent situation had several people I know discussing another person we know, about something that was really none of our business, but that had us all concerned. I struggled with whether this was gossip, and ultimately it came down to WHY we were talking. We were talking out of concern and love. Not to create a scandal, or just to talk about this other person in a derogatory manner.
The same article quoted above suggests, “Gossip is distinguished from sharing information by its intent. The gossip-monger has as his goal building himself up by making others look bad and by exalting his superior knowledge of others.”
In my example above, the purpose was to seek support and advice from each other – should we do anything, was it our place, what consequences could action or inaction have? Not gossip.
Also pulling from my recent life, I have shared information about another situation with some friends. Mostly, it’s been to unload a bit, to seek advice, and to have a sounding board as I figure out what to do. And some of it has been pure gossip, with no redeeming value. Oops.
Some relevant parts of the Bible:
Leviticus 19:16 – “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.” (NIV)
Proverbs 11:13 – “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” (NIV)
Romans 1:29 – “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.” (NIV)
1 Timothy 5:13 – “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” (NIV)
Matthew 7:12 – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (NIV)
Ephesians 4:29 – “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (NIV)