Not long ago, a coworker crept into my office and quietly closed my door. Judging by the look on her face, I knew she was about to give me the latest scoop on something big. She began to divulge some unsavory details about a person whom I'd always thought was happily married. But apparently this colleague had been involved in multiple covert affairs.
I was shocked by this revelationand should have ended the conversation then and there. But unfortunately, I didn't. My eyes grew big as saucers as my coworker began naming names. But what was so titillating in the moment has left me full of regret. Now I'm faced with some very negative information about a person I once admired. And I don't even know if the accusations are true!
Gossipthat chatty talk about other people's intimate mattersis a favorite pastime around many office lunch tables and water coolers. If asked point-blank, most of us would say gossip is a bad habit, yet our culture treats it lightly. Everyday we can access websites, watch television shows, or read tabloids to get the latest scandal scoop on celebrities and politicians. Some websites even send you an e-mail alert on late-breaking gossip. In our voyeuristic world of reality TV, being privy to intimate details of a person's life is socially acceptable.
But while we may innocently "dish," "get the goods," or hear "the dirt" on someone, God doesn't take gossip lightly. He says our tongues are set on fire by hell (James 3:6). He commands us not to gossip. For example, Proverbs 4:24 reminds us to keep corrupt talk from our lips. And God doesn't want us listening to gossip, either. Hearing gossip is about as bad as spreading it, since you can't erase the negative words you've heard about a person. Proverbs 26:22 says, "The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts."
GOSSIP JUST PLAIN HURTS
Simply put, gossip hurts people. When my dearest friend and coworker went through a divorce, many of our colleagues came to me for information. It was the "juiciest" story to rock my office in a long time. Married only six months, my friend's husband moved to another country, came back for a day to file for divorce, and then left again. Discussing her hurt and raw emotions with others seemed unthinkable. Furthermore, I ran the risk of circulating rumors. Human resources specialist Cassie Dibiase, owner of Resources and Results Consulting in Houston, Texas, points out, "Think back to the playground, when someone spread untrue tales around the schoolyard. They were hurtful, unproductive, and damaged friendships. Playground rules still apply. The only difference is professional reputations are taken more seriously, and the stakes are higher."
Cassie adds that workplace gossip is probably the single most destructive behavior in which anyone in the marketplace can engage. Consider these key points:
Workplace gossips are viewed as untrustworthy and are less likely to receive promotions or key assignments.
Important lines of communication between employees and supervisors often are disrupted because of a lack of trust created by gossip.
What might appear to be simple gossip often can result in a full-blown investigation, causing irreparable damage to an individual's reputation, and to the gossiper's reputation as well.
It's obvious that not only is God displeased when we gossip, but so is our employer. So how do you avoid the office rumor mill?
There's a good rule of thumb to help you determine whether you're gossiping: Ask yourself how you'd feel if the person you're discussing suddenly happened upon your conversation. Would you be embarrassed? Chances are, as a Christian, you know when you're gossiping. You get that unsettled feeling from the Holy Spirit that tells you what you're discussing isn't quite appropriate.
To discern what is and isn't acceptable to discuss, use Philippians 4:8 as a guide: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableif anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things." While the apostle Paul's talking about our thought life here, Philippians 4:8 is a good way to measure our conversations, too.
RESTRAIN LOOSE TALK
Surrounding yourself with like-minded Christian friends keeps gossip in check. For example, Sarah and her friend Stacy are close confidantes. As Christians, they worried about crossing the line of gossip in their daily conversations. This became of particular concern when they both became involved in a ministry to moms and a not-so-congenial member of the group became a frequent topic of their discussions. It seemed ironic that they found themselves participating in unproductive talk about this person when all three of them were involved in ministry. So Sarah and Stacy came up with a few guidelines to follow in their conversations:
They allowed no excuses for gossiping about a person's unlovable characteristics, because God loves us all, quirks and annoying habits included.
They granted permission to call each other on it when one of them crossed the line into gossiping.
Sarah and Stacy also asked themselves four questions based on the Rotary International's Four Way Test: Is what we're saying the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build better relationships? Is the talk beneficial?
When their speech began to tread into gossip territory, one gently reminded the other they needed to steer their conversation toward a more edifying topic.
SWITCH CONVERSATIONAL TRACKS
While maintaining ties with fellow believers helps keep our tongue in check, we don't always share office space with other Christians. How do you keep gossip under control when you're with people who aren't necessarily focused on guarding their talk? While my first impulse is to try to stay away from situations that put me in the midst of gossip, I'm reminded that Jesus broke bread with nonbelievers, including gossipers.
When gossip begins around you, try to cut it off with a gentle remark to sway the conversation. Or, better still, turn to your gossiping coworker and ask her about what's happening in her life. It's been said a gossip is one who talks to you about others, a bore is one who talks to you about herself, and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about you. Getting her to talk about herself is an almost guaranteed way to change the conversation.
TAME THAT TONGUE
No matter how hard we try to avoid gossip, we'll still catch ourselves slipping every now and then. As Sarah puts it, "Gossiping is something we always have to keep in check with the Lord." The best way to do that is through committing your heart, mind, and tongue to God daily. As Beth Moore writes in When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, "Prayer keeps the mouth open before God on the matter, rather than open before others We have no business gossiping about members of the Body of Christ [or nonbelievers for that matter]. If we would turn the time we spent discussing the other's life into prayer time instead, no telling what would happen to the glory of God."
Why not pray a simple prayer in faith and release control of your speech into God's hands? Confess when you've failed, then ask him for the ability to say only wholesome things that benefit your listeners, that build others up according to their needs (Ephesians 4:29). Ask God for the strength to take not only every thought but also every word captive to make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Surrender your thoughts and words for him to use for his glory, not yours.
My perspective on gossip's devastating power changed drastically in junior high when I started an ugly rumor about a girl whom I found kissing the boy I liked. By day's end, the gossip had reached every corner of my middle school, and my victim was in tears at the news that everyone knew she'd been "making out" with this boy. She was so upset that she hyperventilated, had to go the school nurse's office, and then was sent home for the day. When my mom found out about what I did, she asked me if this was how a Christian behaved. "No," I said feebly.
I'm an adult in the workplace now; I understand adult problems. So I continue to try my bestwith the Holy Spirit's helpto avoid ever again participating in something so damaging.
The truth is, gossip isn't any different now than how it was when we were in junior high. Only now the stakes, as Cassie Dibiase points out, are so much higher. Careers, marriages, children, church unity, testimonies, and other important areas that could be irreparably damaged by loose talk are on the line.
As I try to focus on what's good to discuss, I remember to put it to the test of Philippians 4:8. And what if there's nothing good to say? Then in the words of our mothers' age-old advice, "If you can't find anything good to say, then say nothing at all!"
Rhonda Wilson is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Texas.
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