“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. If I were to rewrite this statement, it would go something like this:
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will pulverize them into a smoothie that my enemies will eat for breakfast.”
I’m no stranger to gossip. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church for Christ’s sake… (pun intended).
Sundays were full of “prayers” for that teenager who hadn’t been to church in months…
“I heard she was knocked up,” they’d whisper amongst themselves while standing in the hallways during the 15-minute break between Sunday School and service.
Was it true? Nah. The truth was, she couldn’t stand being around all the gossip anymore, so she started attending another church—or worse—gave up on church and God altogether. And really, can you blame her?
Gossip hurts. Actually, the Bible puts it in words that sound eerily similar to my smoothie-statement above:
“The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” — Proverbs 18:8 (KJV)
Talebearer means “slanderer” or “whisperer.” Basically it’s a gossiper, in case you were wondering.
(And what’s really eery, and awesome, is that I found this verse after I wrote my above statement.)
You know the feeling you get when you walk into a room and everyone gets quiet, and when you walk out, you hear faint whispers behind your back? It’s a sick feeling. And if you’re anything like me, you experience anxiety, stomach pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and you may even have a mild panic attack. Your self-esteem plummets to the floor.
You’ve got a devil on your right shoulder supporting the urge you feel to throw something hard across the room right at the person you believe is responsible for starting the gossip. If it weren’t for the angel on your left shoulder saying things like “turn the other cheek,” and “pray for those who persecute you,” you wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the nearest heavy object.
It’s not pretty.
Gossip hurts. No one likes to be around people who spend the majority of their time saying nasty things about other people. And you know what’s really scary? A lot of gossipers don’t even realize they’re gossiping. As soon as you call them out on it, they’re quick to defend themselves with statements like, “oh we just really care about Sally and want her to be better,” or “if we didn’t care we wouldn’t talk about her,” or, the worst excuse of them all, and the one I grew up hearing just about every Sunday … “Sally really needs our prayers, guys.” And then we proceed to verbalize all her junk to everyone around us and have the nerve to say we’re doing it out of “love” and “concern,” so we can feel justified about gossiping—which, if we’re honest with ourselves, is what we’re really doing.
It’s easy to get sucked in, too. Gossip is the primary form of conversation for a lot of people. In a desperate effort to connect with others on some level, I often find myself in the presence of gossipers, holding back the urge to respond or ask questions that I know will only result in more gossip.
I admit that sometimes I feed the fire. But lately, in situations like that, I’ve been trying to just walk away. Even if it means dealing with stares and whispers about how “antisocial” I am, I’d rather be labeled antisocial than a gossip. In the words of Jesus:
“If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away…” —Matthew 5:30 (NIV)
We all gossip. We’re all guilty. He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone. Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not pointing fingers here. I have a deep, genuine desire to cut gossip out of my life and to connect with people on a meaningful level. So I’m putting this struggle out there—this struggle that we all have—in an attempt to ask my peers to please stop gossiping in my presence. Stop tempting me to engage in conversation that only serves to hurt and not to heal. And if you catch me starting a gossip fest, call me out and tell me stop.
If we truly have the desire to love people and to voice our concerns about them, we should do it to their faces, and do it in a loving way. Love is telling the truth, even when it hurts, and if we’re sincere about it, most of the time, the hearer will know we’re coming from a place of love, and it won’t sting too much. Hate is saying mean things behind people’s backs, which hurts 100% of the time—even when we don’t mean for it to, and even if we think they’ll never hear what we said. Eventually, it will come back around, and by the time it gets to the person being talked about, it’s likely to sound like it was re-translated 100 times by 10 nearly deaf people playing a game of telephone. Which means that what that person hears may sound way worse than what was actually communicated. This ultimately leads to conflict that’s extremely difficult to resolve, and then we find ourselves wondering why someone we care about never comes around anymore.
I can tell you why. It’s because they didn’t want to walk in on us speculating over whether they were knocked up by a deadbeat.
To summarize: as the old saying goes, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”