What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.

Jewish proverb

Gossip victimizes others and can break down unity and trust between neighbors and within churches, schools and work places alike. Yet we are all tempted to participate in it.
The other day a friend approached me with an interesting question.  “How do I tell someone I care about that I have been avoiding her because of her propensity to gossip which is uncomfortable to listen to?”
She went on to say, “I wonder what she is saying about me when I am not around.”
I suggested that she be entirely honest with this person, whose relationship mattered to her. Authentic relationships require openness and honesty. In fact, the quality of any relationship hinges on our willingness to be authentic and open, even when it’s difficult.
Confronting others is hard though, and very uncomfortable for most of us. Our tendency instead is to either ignore issues or react angrily, or to hold onto a grudge and talk to others about the situation instead. We want to “vent” our frustrations, which really is no solution at all – although, at the time, it feels like one.

Gossip is saying something behind someone’s back that is either true or false.

Slander  is even worse.  It involves a malicious, false, inflammatory statement.
Some of the most hurtful things I have seen happen in schools and church communities deal with false reports.  I remember a few times that I erroneously acted on things I had heard, assuming they were true.  After the fact, and to my embarrassment, I learned that the information shared with me was based on assumptions and included deceptive twists.
False reports are divisive because they foster misconceptions.
False reports can destroy reputations.

Just because you have heard something about an individual does not make it true.

To continue to spread a false report about someone is plain and simply wrong. Yet it happens all too often.
Having worked in schools for many years, I have personally witnessed the devastation that false rumors cause to both individuals and to the organization as a whole.  Just the other day I heard a rumor about an incident that occurred years ago in our school, shared by an individual who was not even present at the time. Having been intimately involved in the situation, I knew exactly what had taken place and what I heard was entirely false. Just because we hear something, does not make it true.

How should we respond to negative information we hear about others? 

When you are the recipient, ask the person, “what is it you want me to do with this information?”  In other words, “why are you telling me this?”  We can help each other become more thoughtful and respectful in what is shared about others. We can be “iron sharpening iron.” (Proverbs 27:17)

When tempted to say something about another person, first ask yourself: 

  • Am I certain that it’s true?
  • Are my words kind-hearted?
  • Would I want this person to overhear what I am about to say?
  • Is this something I have already shared with him or her?

Then ask yourself “is it necessary?”

“Why do I want to share this?” There is a deep need for significance built within each of us which can drive us to speak in ways that promote ourselves while demoting others.
Stop and think before you open your mouth. There are times that sharing the truth is necessary. Apostle Paul in his letter to churches often praised individuals, but at times he also called individuals out by name. We read in Galatians how he revealed an issue he had with Cephas (Peter) in his letter to the church as a whole.

Finally, as parents, we must model respectful speech for our children.

Teaching our kids to not gossip begins with what we model for them in our own conversations. We can tell them gossip is wrong but if we participate in it, our actions will speak louder. They will follow our actions more than our teachings.

Here’s a few of the many references to gossip and slander in the Bible:

Proverbs 10:18

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.

Matthew 12:36

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.

Proverbs 16:28

A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.

Ephesians 4:31-32

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Proverbs 20:19

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.

Exodus 23:1

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.