Did you hear I have a devotion published this weekend with Proverbs 31 Ministries? About gossip.
Gossiping has left us all the side of wrong at some time or another.
If you stop by here often you might know I read academic journals - I teach communication at a university. One published study on the topic of gossip reported that up to 65% of people's daily conversation could be labeled as gossip. The researchers arrived at this conclusion after much eavesdropping on people's conversations in public places like trains, bars, restaurants and a university cafeteria.
You might be thinking that percentage is lower among Christians. Perhaps so. I hope so! But even cut by a quarter percent, that would make 40% of our conversations gossipy.
The Bible speaks to gossiping or slander quite a few times - like over 100. Apparently this popular modern habit - with entire magazines and websites dedicated to celebrity gossip - has been prevalent since the beginning of time.
Fired for Whispering
A few years ago 4 female employees that worked for the town of Hooksett, NH actually got fired for gossiping. People were outraged over that. Good Morning America covered the story. Between them the women had served the town for 46 years prior to this.
Then they were fired for discussing rumors of an improper relationship between another employee and the town administrator.
The administrator complained to the town council. After an investigation, the town council fired the women, saying, "Gossip, whispering, and an unfriendly environment are causing poor morale and interfering with the efficient performance of town business."
These women were shocked to be fired for this. Probably because it seemed to them a harmless act, or at least a common thing to do. But I'm sure the objects of their gossip didn't think it was harmless. I'm sure they didn't care how common gossiping is.
Turns out the rumors of the improper relationship were false. (Can you imagine trying to convince your spouse that the rumors are not true when the majority of the town is talking about the affair you are supposedly having?)
So the women were discussing something about other people that turned out to be false. Just rumors and suspicions. But what if the accusations were true? What if there was an affair going on?
How would that change things? Would that change whether or not they should be fired for discussing it?
Nailing Down a Slippery Subject
What makes gossip gossip? Is it whether the topic at hand is true or untrue? Or the whether it is known fact or presumed true? Or is it just the fact that the topic at hand is not really any of your personal business?
And when it's your boss, as in these people's case, is it then your business to some degree? What about when your boss is not just your manager but his job means he is also leading the whole town. Does that change anything?
I'd love to know what you're thinking. How do we know when we're being discerning and when we're just serving dirt?
I'm sure the boss was thinking, Just come ask me if you suspect something wrong is going on. And I'm sure the employees would say in response, "Yeah right, and you'd tell me the truth if you were having an affair? And I'd not be in trouble for asking you that?"
Sometimes I think people want to check and compare their assumptions with others before going straight to the source to ask if it is true. That is if they ever do go to the source, which takes courage. And perhaps risk. And should be motivated by a desire for truth in love.
Way too often gossiping is just a form of recreation. Dangerous recreation that seems safe and serves as a bonding point, but is so much more sinister than it seems. So where's the line between reasonable communication and reckless talk?
I'm at a wedding in the Pocono Mountains this weekend, but I really do want to hear what you think about gossip. Do you struggle to tame your tongue? Have you been burned by gossip? What makes gossip gossip? And do you think those women should've been fired?
Comment and you may win a copy of the book It's No Secret. Here's my promised favorite fall cheesecake.