Cultural Phenomenon: Gossip

I believe gossip occurs whenever a person talks about another person in a negative manner that they would not want to say directly to that person. No matter how hard we as human beings try to be positive, it seems that sooner or later a negative comment will slide out without us realizing it or maybe it is said on purpose. We may make excuses as to why we said something and thus justify our comment and feel it was an acceptable act.

It would be nice to use a gossip detection machine to evaluate if what is about to be said or has been said can stand up to the following test:
  1. If a comment is made directly to the person that was being talked about, would it have a constructive outcome.
  2. Would the person speaking about the other person want to hide what is said from the person they are talking about. That is usually a clear indication that it should not have been said in the first place.
  3. Is a judgment made without getting all the facts by not looking at each side of an issue.
Sometimes negative things need to be pointed out for all of our good. When speaking directly to the person involved, we tend to soften our words more than when we speak about the same situation away from that person. Many times speaking to a person instead of speaking about them is much more productive. I believe it is better to give the benefit of the doubt. None of us are perfect and we all fall short in one area or the other.
There is nothing more cutting and hurtful than comments made about others. I have noticed that sooner or later the comment does come back to the person that it was originally aimed at. There is usually a great deal of damage done to a person or persons being talked about and a great deal of guilt for the person who started the nasty words to begin with. Since we are all human and prone to this pitfall, confession and asking for forgiveness and forgiving is a key ingredient to unraveling the whole mess.
For many years, I would talk to friends during the day in the middle of doing my work and "vent" about all sorts of situations and people. I thought this was a good way to "work through a situation." One day while talking about a certain person, I turned around and found that person standing behind me. The person quietly just stood there and then walked away. I cannot explain how awful that felt and I was embarrassed to even be around that person after that. Not a word was exchanged, but the hurt could definitely be seen. What I thought was helping me resolve a situation was deeply hurting another human being. Now I suffered from the guilt of the gossip.
When you are the target of gossip, it is nothing but devastating. It tears down trust and divides the strongest of alliances. Our minister gave several sermons on gossip in a very convicting and forceful way. Soon after these sermons, I had a conversation with the assistant minister's wife. I had no idea that I may have offended her or that she misunderstood our conversation. Instead of talking to me about it, she went to the minister to tell him about me. The minister believed what she had said through how she comprehended our conversation but I still was not included in all of this. The minister then preached a sermon the next week telling church members to stay away from certain people in the congregation because they were trouble. He made references to an area of study that I was involved with and there was little doubt in most people's eyes who he was speaking of.
I tried to talk with the minister but he would not listen because he had heard certain things from "a reliable source." I continued to attend the church after much prayer and feeling that God wanted me to continue in this fellowship. Many members would not acknowledge me or my family or even say hello to us when we passed them in the hallways. It was a very hard time, but I was determined to stay. Leaving would only make everyone believe that what was said was true.
After two years of being shunned by most of the members (it is interesting that the older people and widows were still my friends and kind to me), the truth came to light. The wife of the minister, who gave the sermon condemning me, took the time to talk to me one day. I did not realize she was evaluating my words and she went back to her husband and told him that he needed to speak to me. She knew that my studies were balanced and that I was balanced in them. She told him that he had made a mistake in judging me without talking to me first.
We sat down and he asked me many questions. I answered carefully and used many reference materials. At the end of our conversation, tears rolled down his cheeks. He apologized. I realized then that misunderstandings and speaking before you have talked directly to a person are damaging to all involved, not just to the person it is aimed at. I learned through this experience that gossip hurts the bearer and the target.
In our American society, we are quick to jump on a negative comment and negative conclusions. Try watching the news or reading the tabloids at the grocery store. It is good to have freedom of speech and an open society for debate but if we were to ask "how would I feel if this was being said about me," maybe we would be able to discern whether it is constructive or just plain gossip. A culture with freedom of speech does balance itself out with the opportunity of the accused being able to defend him or herself. This is not always the case in a society that does not practice freedom of speech.
While I believe that gossip can more readily occur in a culture that practices freedom of speech, I believe that gossip is a human trait that all humans at one time or another engage in. I believe it occurs in every culture to one degree or another. People can be unjustly accused or talked about in any society. It occurs for a number of reasons that can be traced straight to a person's heart. After all, how can a church or minister preach against gossip and then get caught up in it. I believe it is because we are all human and all vulnerable. We view a situation from only one perspective and misjudge. We become jealous or angry and speak against another. We feel inadequate and talking about someone else makes us feel a little more elevated. These are all human conditions. Culture just magnifies it or cloaks it.

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