Somebody open a window please…
I received the following question from a sincere believer (I have edited it). It is a request for pastoral guidance and spiritual direction regarding one of the most common of all human relational breakdowns.
When people come to you and vent about other people and say negative things about others and I don’t want to know the bad stuff…How do I answer someone without offending them and turning them off. I really have a hard time telling people what I really want to say…Because when I hear the negative stuff, then when I see that person, I see them in a different light because of what someone else has said. I really want to be a child of the KING, not a gossip or always looking for the bad stuff in someone else’s life. I have enough bad stuff in my life. I don’t need anyone else’s.
I would really appreciate some advice…
What this Christian is dealing with is gossip. The basic definition of gossip is discussing/revealing other people’s faults and failures when you really don’t need to (yes, there are times when responsible family members must discuss each other’s problems for good reasons). The online definition of gossip is: “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others; the act is also known as dishing or tattling.” It is a broad category of damaging verbal communication that may range from the almost harmless discussion of public knowledge (something you heard on the news) to malicious, slanderous or libelous accusations against other people you actually know. Malicious gossip usually is an impugning of another person’s motives, character, or actions with insufficient grounds and to no redemptive purpose. It’s stuff that just flat doesn’t need to be said or heard. Paul says that gossip and slander are characteristics of paganism generally (Rom.1:29) and indicators if carnality among Christians (2 Cor.12:20). In Proverbs 6:16-19 God reveals seven things he hates. The last two are a lying tongue and one who sows discord among brothers. Many Christians think that because the Lord loves them and has forgiven them, that he therefore never hates their talk (or their blogs, Facebook posts, tweets, or snapchats). This is presumption. Our Father does hate a lot of what we communicate. He will discipline us for it, too (Hebrews chapter 12).
What should you do when somebody starts speaking ill of another person (a mutual acquaintance) in your presence? Here are four suggestions: 1) Stop talking. Just don’t respond. It may create a moment of awkwardness, but it will also, usually, stop the gossip. Conversation is like tennis. If you don’t hit the ball back over the net, there is no game. 2) Ask the gossiper how they know the thing they are saying. “Where did you hear that?” or “Can I quote you on that?” 3) Say something nice about the victim of the gossip. This usually makes the gossiper re-consider how their comments sound to others. It also counteracts the poison absorbed by those overhearing the gossip. 4) Leave the room. This is the last resort, when all the other ideas fail. It does make a statement.
Please pardon the earthy metaphor, but gossip is the flatulence of human culture. Trying to stop it completely is a painful waste of time. The fallen world is filled with it, breathing it constantly, heedless and accustomed to the foul odor. And now, thanks to the blessing of social media, gossip’s stench can spread throughout the world in a matter of seconds. Viral flatulence. Christians, of all people, should be sensitive to this, but many are not. They often contribute to it. It would be much better to open a window and let some grace in.
So, as we teach our children, when you feel the need to gossip, please go outside until it passes.
Just a Thought,