Gossip Girl1:30 AM
Right. Gossip. Yeah. Even American Girl magazine warned me at age 7 to hold my tongue when something juicy's about to let fly. Of all sins, gossip looks the most innocuous and works the most deadly poison in people. (That awkward moment when you walk into a group and interrupt a conversation on your own private business.) Of all people, Christians ought to know better.
So you've heard this before. I've heard this before. We know it's wrong, we've all felt its effects, and still we blab on. Why?
Sometimes we don't recognize what gossip actually is. Sometimes we don't recognize the warning signs leading up to gossip. As a victim and a perpetrator of gossip, I must share with you my confessions on the subject.
If someone tells you and you alone, you do not have permission to spread it. That seems obvious enough. For some reason, that obviousness never stopped me, especially if the news wasn't bad. It could be as simple as an embarrassing story -- innocent, nothing bad at all. But this is the root of all gossip: sharing stories, information and observations about or by other people. In other words, dabbling in other people's business and then sharing it like it's your own.
Even good things. I hate, hate, hate it when I share something exciting with a friend, go to a class, come back and find everybody shouting out congratulations. I love telling things personally. I get to emphasize the things that most excite me or tell it in a funnier way or disclose more in-depth information to some people instead of others. When other people spread the news, I lose ownership of my own life story.
Good friends ought to be especially careful of this -- whether huge exciting news or serious business. Good groups of friends often assume that since everybody will find out and "we all know him, anyway," it's perfectly fine to discuss said person behind his back. To my shame, I do this all the time. And it doesn't make things better to talk about that business in front of the person either. It seems kinder and more honest, but really, it puts pressure on the individual to clarify feelings, thoughts and situations that she didn't feel comfortable telling everyone about. It innocently begs for more information that we're not entitled to know. It's so awkward to have some kind soul come up and say something encouraging and wise about a situation that I distinctly did not want to talk to them about.
This leads to another point I often forget: Just because I am a close friend to someone does not mean I am entitled to know everything about that person. Girls especially judge closeness by how much personal business they know of their friends. We don't like it when a friend won't tell us something, especially if it's important or interesting. We feel hurt if she refuses to disclose her feelings -- actually, we sometimes feel affronted, cheated even. This attitude causes so much hurt. It puts unnecessary pressure on our friends to bare their souls in an uncomfortable way. Sometimes talking does not help. Sometimes they deliberately withhold information about themselves because they want to discourage rumors or keep it confined only to the people involved.
This is ok. Sure, it may look like evading accountability or going into denial, but what of it? If a friend opens up to someone else besides us, we don't have a right to access information either from herself or from the person she told. If we really care, we can offer encouragement, hugs and chocolate and wait for her to open up on her own accord.
Speaking of that other person who does hear your friend's problems, consider the position of other people before blabbing your life story to them. I hate when people tell me things about other people that I didn't need or want to know. That information affects how I view people. It also makes me an information storehouse about the personal lives of so many different people. What do you do when Susie marches up and asks if Betty likes Bill? I can say, "Sorry, it's none of your business," but that implies I'm covering up the juicy truth that yes, Betty does indeed like Bill. I can lie and allay suspicion entirely, but that's a lie. I can tell the truth and betray a confidence, but that's just as wrong. I lose whatever route I take.
Mediators, with the best of intentions, also fall into gossip all the time. I need to learn to say, "Look, I love you and I know that you're struggling with your relationship to Janie, but there's no way I can discuss this with you without gossiping. I suggest you talk honestly with Janie about your problems like the Bible says, anyway. If you still have problems, ask your parents, the dean of women or a wise sophomore entirely removed from our friend circle." There is no need for mediators just to listen to one friend rant about another friend. Mediators are necessary when one friend is actually going to confront the other friend about a sin or a problem that the two cannot solve on their own. If "advice" is needed, godly friends in other groups or adults are a much better route than a mutual friend.
Oh, by the way, changing the names or using no names at all does not make it any less gossip. If you can't tell someone the names of those involved, it's because the listener doesn't need to know -- or you're just venting instead of asking for honest help and advice. Plus, especially in close friend circles, the listener can figure out who Jack and Jill represent in real life. If they get it right, they now think differently of those people. If they get it wrong -- well, welcome to how rumors get started.
The bottom line for us girls regarding gossip? Just stop talking so much. I used to tell everyone my problems, whether those problems involved just me or anybody else in my path. Everyone knew my feelings about certain people and situations. Everyone. I gave everyone leave to think they were entitled to know things about me and other people. I gave myself leave to think everyone was entitled to know those things.
Plus, blabbing about everything -- bad or good -- trained myself to never think before I spoke. It trained me to depend upon people to help me figure out my problems. It trained me to go to friends instead of the problem person. Basically, my flapping tongue bred gossip. I'm now learning to say, "I can't talk to you about this" and "You don't need to tell me, but I love you and am praying for you." I'm learning the awful reality that some things I may never, ever be able to tell anyone, no matter how much I want to. I'm learning that my problems are primarily my problems.
It's hard...but it's freeing. Ladies, let's do this.