Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more. —The Music Man
Who doesn’t like a good story? Especially one based on rumor instead of fact?
No Broadway musical portrays this better than Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. Throughout the story, con artist Harold Hill easily manipulates the townspeople of River City by taking their attention off the facts and distracting them with rumor and gossip. It was as easy as sharing a juicy tidbit of “information” to one of the women and soon the word spread around town without a shred of evidence.
It is easy for us to think of gossip as only a way of manipulating a story to get one’s way, and therefore excusing our own actions. However, the truth is, we all gossip.
How many of us are guilty of telling our spouse about what we think our co-workers are doing when they should be working and calling it, “sharing my day at work?”
It’s easy to share a “prayer request” to a close friend about another close friend without the latter one’s knowledge. Just because you end a conversation with “bless their heart,” doesn’t mean what you just shared wasn’t gossip.
Finally, think back on your last extended family dinner. Think about who wasn’t able to make come. Did the conversation around the table revolve around the negative characteristics of those who were missing?
As you can imagine, the book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this topic:
Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. —Proverbs 26:20, KJV
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. —Proverbs 18:8, KJV
A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter. —Proverbs 11:13, KJV
Okay, so you know that gossiping is wrong and you want to stop it yourself. How can you influence your friends to do the same?
1. Don’t Be Judgmental
Knowing that gossip is something that we all struggle with, consider telling your friend that you are trying to work on removing gossip from your own life. Ask your friend if he would be willing to stop you whenever he heard you start to put down and share some private information about another. Chances are that he will want to improve his behavior as well, and ask you for the same favor. If not, they may be oblivious to the fact that they gossip too.
2. Change the Story
The next time you hear a co-worker complaining about another employee, instead of jumping on the bandwagon and sharing your grievances, turn the story around. Without making excuses for the person targeted, share a story about that employee’s good qualities. Turn the complaints into compliments. You might be surprised how quickly the conversation can turn from ugly to positive.
3. You Are Not Immune
If you know a friend who is constantly telling you dirt about others, know this: she is more than likely sharing dirt about you, too. If you can’t enjoy a conversation with this friend without them dumping on someone else, politely ask her to stop and then tell her how much it would hurt you if you found out she was sharing stories about you (true or not), to others.
4. Know When to Say Goodbye
Sometimes people are so caught up in sharing “the latest news” about “so-and-so” that they can’t think of anything else to talk about. They get a thrill to see how you will respond to the scathing news and can’t wait to hear your opinion. If you find yourself feeling shameful after talking to one of these kinds of friends, perhaps it is time to say “goodbye” to that friendship. A negative friend is a toxic friend. If a friend is not willing to change his or her behavior for the sake of your friendship, then it wasn’t much of a friendship to begin with.
Regardless of how your friend reacts, God calls us to keep them in prayer and let go of any resentment. Perhaps that instead of a friend, you can now consider him or her your ministry, being vigilant to no keep your distance from the ungodly influences this person might subject you to.