The tongue is a little member and boasts of great thing things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, or reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not be so. James 3: 5-10
I know that we are all inundated with information on coronavirus. At this time of national worry, I wonder if it is appropriate to be writing on anything else but this. However, there is also a good deal of “fatigue” and “information overload” related to this crisis. So, perhaps it is appropriate to continue some “normal” activity. I am writing in this vein. Today’s topic is on gossip, which is appropriate, as there is a lot of that going on related to COVID-19. I will continue the Prayer Team encouragement unit as per usual, interrupting occasionally as appropriate to write on this crisis.
There is another activity that we are tempted to engage in on a daily basis and that is gossip, or negativity. At some point, probably all of us, or just about all of us, get sucked into the gossip circle or the negativity circle. It is important to recognize that we can’t maintain healthy relationships like this and that we do not live up to our full potential when we consistently engage in gossip. As crazy as it sounds, if you said to your friends, “I’m not gossiping any more in our conversations,” they might start gossiping about you. And so, many times we bow to the pressure to gossip, rather than standing on a firm boundary of being positive.
God gave us only one mouth. The same mouth that encourages people is also the same mouth that can tear people apart. As James points out in his epistle, the tongue is like a fire that can set a forest ablaze. It can set it ablaze with gossip and negativity, or it can set it ablaze with encouragement and positivity. The choice is ours.
Most of us have heard of the “telephone game.” It’s a game where multiple teams are assigned, let’s say each with ten people, and each team is put into a line. The first person in each line is shown a phrase or a sentence. They are asked to whisper it to the person behind them, who whispers it to the person behind them and so on until it gets to the last person, who writes down the phrase or sentence that they heard. And just about every time, the phrase that the last person heard is significantly different from the phrase that was given to the first person. This is how gossip works. Whatever is said first might be true, but by the time the truth has made it around, what is being said is far from the truth. We obviously know what happens when what starts out is an untruth. Its results are even worse.
Why do people gossip? I would venture to say it is because people want to be relevant and noticed. If someone has something interesting to share, they are relevant. Thus, if a “less than truth”, or a private truth that has been share in confidence will get one noticed, a person will be prone to gossip, in order to be noticed, to be relevant.
What then, is the antidote to gossip? It’s honesty. Sometimes we gossip about someone because we are afraid to confront them. We have to learn how to confront people in an honest and loving way, rather than talk about them behind their back. The second antidote is just giving people some attention. The person who is on the margin of the social group many times feels like they can’t get into the group unless they bring gossip about someone else into the group. Many people fight for their place in the social group by conspiring against others in the group with gossip. In other words, we work to build ourselves up by tearing others down, rather than seeking to build ourselves up based on our own merits.
Another antidote to gossip is being comfortable with silence. By and large, we are not comfortable about silence. We tend to fill silence with noise. And when we don’t have good noise, we fill it with bad noise. At times, we also don’t know how to end conversations. Many times we keep conversations going and they go to gossip, rather than just saying “our business is concluded, talk to you soon.”
One of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not commit murder” (murder is senseless killing). Most of us think in regards to this commandment, “I’ve never killed/murdered anyone, so I haven’t broken this commandment.” When we gossip about other people, we murder reputations, and kill self-esteem. Of all the commandments, the “thou shalt not kill” commandment is probably the one we all commit the most. We would all be well served to heed the words of Psalm 141: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips!”
Lord, open my lips that I may praise You (Psalm 51:15) at all times and in all places. Help me resist the urge to open my lips to words of gossip. In my groups of friends, help us collectively to have conversations that are constructive, that do not destroy others. Thank You for the beautiful part of my life. Help me to carry these forward in conversations. Bring people around me who will encourage me and build me up, so that in my moments of temptation, I do not have to resort to gossip to build myself up. Amen.
If we need a boundary on anything in our life, it is how we use our tongue.