Gossip is… uh…
Last night at small group study we had a surprising discovery. Everyone around the table was absolutely agreed that gossip is a bad thing, and that we should confront it, but when I asked the group to define gossip, we couldn’t do it.
We danced around a lot of ideas like “malicious talk”, “things that are none of our business”, or “things we wouldn’t say to their face”, but none of it seemed to give us a succinct and satisfactory definition that we could use to easily define gossip. This was both illuminating and frustrating – and a little embarrassing since I’ve been preaching against gossip for the last bunch of weeks and I couldn’t define it either!
I know it’s a bad thing to speak gossip and listen to gossip. Paul, in Romans 1:29-32 lists gossip alongside some pretty heinous sins!
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
But what is gossip?
I went online looking for a satisfying definition that will help guide Christians to know when they are gossiping or hearing gossip, so they can obey Jesus and repent — I couldn’t find one. So I read through a lot of scripture and articles (which I will site at the bottom) and came up with a definition that I hope helps.
Gossip is using verbal, print or electronic communications to share unconfirmed information or your own opinion of a person who is absent from the conversation, without their knowledge or consent, with the purpose of increasing your social status or altering other’s opinion of the person.
Let’s break it down:
- Gossip can be spread by speaking, writing, or through social media.
- Gossip never gives the whole story – that would require the individual being gossiped about to be present.
- Gossip includes the gossiper’s personal opinion of the person’s life and choices, either explicitly (by stating it, e.g. “Susie is selfish.”) or implicitly (through posture and tone of voice). One website gives this example. “The sentence ‘Clara got a puppy’ sounds pretty neutral. But if Clara lives in a college dorm that doesn’t allow pets and the person speaking sounds scandalized, the sentence becomes gossip.”
- Gossip is done without the knowledge of the person being talked about. “I never say anything that I wouldn’t say to their face” isn’t good enough. It should be “I never say anything I haven’t already shared with that person first and gotten their permission to share with others.”
- Gossip has ill motives. This is the most difficult part of the definition as many people can fool themselves into believing that their sharing isn’t gossip, but is well-intended and even helpful. However, when they look deeper they will see that they are falling into one of these two categories:
- Gossiping to positively increase their social status through sharing information (or misinformation) that makes the gossiper look smarter, more informed, more connected, more spiritual, or somehow superior in the eyes of others.
- Gossiping to negatively effect the reputations of others. Instead of making the gossiper look superior, it makes the person being gossiped about seem inferior.
I really hope this helps, and I would love some feedback on this!