Lately I have been thinking a lot about gossip. I have definitely been a victim of it; haven’t you? More important though, I have been trying to pay attention to how much I participate in it, and wondering if I am a gossip girl. I don’t want to be!
Over the years there was a lot of gossip about me and Neil:
“I heard Neil didn’t go home last night. I guess Colleen made him mad – she is so bossy!”
“I heard she was pregnant before they got married. I guess she’s not that Catholic after all.”
“I heard he moved out. I guess Colleen finally had it with his drinking.”
Like all gossip there were nuggets of truth in these comments. For example, Neil struggled with alcoholism and sometimes it was safer for him not to drive home. I wasn’t pregnant for nine months since I went into preterm labor at thirty weeks instead of forty. And, our typical argument involved retreating to separate corners until we cooled off. Sometimes that was an hour, sometimes a night, sometimes weeks. But all the gossipers saw was the way things appeared to be – not the way they really were. I loved Neil despite his faults and, thankfully, he loved me despite mine.
So what makes a conversation gossip? It isn’t simply talking about other people. In a small town and among friends, that’s how we keep up with each other, how we know who needs extra prayers and who might need a casserole. Gossip happens when we talk about things without knowing how they really are. It happens when we supplement the facts with our interesting and juicy comments, even if we do it unintentionally. “Clare fell and broke her arm” is sharing information. “Clare fell and broke her arm; I bet her husband pushed her,” is gossip.
What’s the problem with gossip? What’s the big deal? The addition of judgment or speculation to the simple facts can hurt people. Using my own example of gossip about my relationship with my husband, people interpreted what they saw in an inaccurate way. That was unfair – what if our children heard it? And even if it was true, private is private. It can be painful and humiliating when people talk about things we want to keep personal or haven’t dealt with yet.
Despite having been the victim of rumors and even knowing gossip is wrong, I still do it. Sometimes it makes me feel like I am part of the “clique,” the popular crowd of folks who always know what’s going on. Sometimes discussing the struggle in someone else’s life makes me feel more content about my own. And regrettably, sometimes it is a subtle way to put someone down. Any time I say, “Bless her little heart,” you can be sure there is an insult nearby.
The funny thing is I don’t feel better after sharing gossip. I feel like I violated a trust, even though what I talked about wasn’t told in confidence. I feel judgmental. I feel like I betrayed or hurt another person, one who might have already been wounded. And, since I am called to be generous and compassionate, I feel like I let God down.
So from now on, no more gossip girl! I invite you to join me – to stop editorializing on details, to stop sharing comments that aren’t facts, and to respect the idea that some things are private and none of my business. What do you think?
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