I am not sure about you, but I sometimes struggle to find myself participating in gossip, be it actively contributing to one or being a bystander. With the popularity of group chats on messaging platforms, I find them more prevalent simply because when I let my fingers do the typing, I can truly get carried away. I had a good discussion with a colleague, Alex, recently, and I also wanted to reflect on it more deeply.
What is gossip?
According to Psychologists – “Gossip is any talk about someone who isn’t present”. Hands to heart, our God-given conscience (Rom 2:15) will all convict us for doing so. Most times when we engage in gossip, we speak of things (content) or even in a manner (delivery) which we will be embarrassed to speak in front of the person. Even psychologists do not deny it as Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, explicitly says, “Everyone gossips.”
Why do we gossip?
Knowing that we all participate in it, we need to find out why we do it, to rid ourselves of this problem (assuming we want to). Psychologists say gossips are a means to build relationships, a means to get ahead in the rat race, to gain acceptance, to feel better about ourselves, or even merely for entertainment purposes.
We need to realize; however, all these are at the expense of speaking ill of someone behind their backs.
Unfortunately, the world is divided on whether gossip is good or not, right or wrong. Some think it is a social skill that needs to be honed. At the same time, there is a multitude of sites that gives tips on “how to stop gossiping.” There is no consensus.
But if we ask our conscience, we know that gossiping is wrong, but how do we stop ourselves? Two main themes of solutions stand out to me through my conversations and readings. First, it is to consider how gossiping may affect yourself. In his popular 7 Habits books, Stephen Covey says that “One of the most important ways to manifest integrity is to be loyal to those not present. In doing so, we build the trust of those who are present. When you defend those who are absent, you retain the trust of those present.” Essentially, do not gossip because it may affect your reputation. Secondly, focusing on a common denominator helps reduce gossip. We inherently know that we should not gossip about others “on the same team.” We sometimes remind each other “we are in this together, so let’s stop talking behind his back.” Even in families, we do not frequent gossip among each other. Essentially, it is self-preservation as a team.
But at this point, it pays to ask, “What Does Scripture Say?” (Romans 4:3)
What does scripture say?
Thankfully, scripture is undivided on this issue. God hates gossip (Proverbs 6:16-19), labeling those who participate in it wilfully are wicked (proverbs 17:4). Paul also admonishes the Corinthian Church in 2Cor 12:20 for engaging in gossip.
Once I am clear on the above and intend to submit to God’s perspective on gossip, then I can move on to finding the solution to my problem. As I sought to think of the Biblical solution, it is multifaceted and comprehensive, but Alex and I observed that undergirding all is Christ’s love for us as Christians. The diagnosis of us engaging and not speaking up against gossip is that we do not love the person in question. We do not gossip about our spouses. We will stop gossip about our parents. But yet we participate and watch gossip going on around us. As such, the real reason is that we do not love the person enough.
Thus, if the biblical diagnosis is lovelessness, then the solution is God’s Love. As a Christian, I can know true love because according to 1John 4:19, We love because he [God] first loved us. What does that look like practically? Meditating on how Christ has died for me even while I was still an enemy (Romans 5:8) makes me think of how undeserving I am for this great gift of salvation. Such perfect love truly drives me to try to love others around me. To participate in gossip, which God hates, for which Christ’s blood has been shed, makes me want to obey Him and watch my tongue. Such has to be my motivation.
Some may insist one does not need God or anyone to tell them how to love people. This idea goes against common observation. The fact that scientists need to find reasons and benefits, governments need to run campaigns, and schools need to reward students, all to encourage us to do good, proves that loving people is not inherently natural and requires substantial motivation.
We all need the motivation to eliminate gossip, but the source of motivation is vastly different. It will either come from knowing the perfect love of God or from the desire for self-benefit.
As such, the fundamental question I need to ask myself when I am about to open my mouth is that do I love that person enough to not participate in gossip? Do I desire to love that person like how Christ loved me and died for me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8)? It is difficult, I fall often, but at least now I have found my motivation.