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My Name Is Gossip
By Janet Treadway

Words impact us either positively or negatively. "THINK" before you speak.

My name is Gossip.
I have no respect for justice.
I maim without killing.
I break hearts and ruin lives.
I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.

The more I am quoted the more I am believed.
I flourish at every level of society.
My victims are helpless.
They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name and no face.

To track me down is impossible.
The harder you try, the more elusive I become.
I am nobody's friend.
Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.
I topple governments and ruin marriages.
I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights, heartache and indigestion.
I spawn suspicion and generate grief.

I make innocent people cry in their pillows.
Even my name hisses.

I AM CALLED GOSSIP.

his very eye-opening poem from an unknown author, says a lot about the damage done through gossip. What about the famous phrase we all have heard: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? Though it may be a useful attitude to take when insulted by others, in our hearts, we know this is not true. Somehow reciting those words does not take the hurt away.

Words do tremendous damage. Unless you've been a victim of violent crime or a major illness or something else catastrophic, your deepest pains have probably come from hurtful words.

Words have great power

Words have great power. God created the world using words--"Let there be light"--and there was light. Human beings also create through words. They produce great novels that move us, and music that warms our hearts. Writers put much thought into the right selection of words so their books or songs will sell.

We listen and communicate words every day that either lift us up or bring us down. Powerful, positive words can offer great healing while negative words contain great destructive power that tears down. Whenever you talk negatively about people or listen to someone else talk negatively about others, you unleash that harmful power.

So how do you use this power of words with others? Do your words lift and inspire or do they destroy a person? Are they words of truth? Can even truth hurt? If someone paid you ten cents for every kind word you said about people, and collected five cents for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor?

Gossip and slander ruin reputations and families, break up marriages, separate friends, destroy communities and, yes, even divide churches. Knowing gossip is so destructive, why do we do it?

Why do we gossip?

We gossip to feel good about ourselves. We get an ego boost from others' sins and mistakes. To gossip makes us feel superior over the person that we are talking about.

We also gossip to draw people into our own hurt and anger. We want others to side with us so we must tell our side of the story. Then our friends repeat the story to their friends and on and on it goes. Even if you say the truth, it does not justify unnecessarily passing on hurtful information about someone.

What feelings does gossip produce?

Depending upon whether you are the gossiper or the one being gossiped about, gossip produces emotions of excitement, pain or guilt.

Words have great power. God created the world using words--"Let there be light"--and there was light.

Excitement from gossip comes from human nature wanting to hear dirt on others and repeating it. Look at all the tabloids sold at the grocery counters. They are filled with smut and dirt about the rich and famous. It seems it's fun to read and listen to gossip about others. What is the latest on Tom Cruise? Is he or is he not? In Proverbs 20:19 it says, "He who goes about gossiping reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with one who speaks foolishly" (RSV throughout). We should realize that participating in negative conversations harms us spiritually, creating confusion that can lead to deception.

Pain from gossip comes when we are on the receiving end of the gossip trail. Speaking ill of others is particularly bad because words, once uttered, can never be recalled. It's like the rabbi pointed out in this story:

There was a man in a small town in Eastern Europe who went around slandering a rabbi. One day, feeling bad about what he had done, he went to the rabbi to ask for forgiveness.

"Take a pillow," said the rabbi, "cut it up and shake out the feathers." The man did as he was told and then he returned to the rabbi to get forgiveness. "First," said the rabbi, "go collect all the feathers."

"But that's impossible," said the man. "They've gone everywhere."

"It's as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover all the feathers," said the rabbi.

President Reagan's first Labor Secretary, Raymond Donavan, resigned from his post after numerous rumors that he'd done wrong. After spending more than a million dollars in legal fees to defend himself, Donovan was cleared of all charges. Coming out of the courtroom to talk to reporters, he asked, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"

Gossip also hurts the gossiper. According to psychiatrist Antonio Wood, when you speak ill of someone, you alienate yourself from that person. The more negative your comments, the more distant you will feel from him or her. Say bad things about many people and your words will separate you from them.

Guilt comes when we know in our hearts that it is wrong to slander and talk about someone behind their back. Have you ever tried to look the person in the eye after you have talked about them behind their back?

Guilt also comes when you did not follow the biblical principal in Matthew 18:15: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother."

Gossip for a moment may be fun, but in the end it will only produce hurt, guilt and pain. So how can we avoid gossip?

How can you avoid the pitfalls of gossip?

Seek cleansing from God so you'll have the power to resist talking negatively about others. Take a look at the attitudes you hold and the comments you make. Examine why you are tempted to speak negatively, and pray for God to give you the strength to confront and overcome those temptations. Ask God to purify your mind. Confess the times you've gossiped or criticized in the past, and invite God to transform you. Release any pride or fear that is obstructing you from making the changes you would like, and be open to God's correction and guidance.

Ask the person spreading the negativity to pray for the person about whom he or she is talking.

Pray for people you have hurt--either purposely or inadvertently--by speaking negatively about them. Ask God to heal them. Also, pray for people who have hurt you in the past through their negative words about you. Forgive them and ask God to let them be aware of His loving presence with them.

Pray for God to give you wisdom so you can resist being pulled into negative conversations. When someone approaches you and begins talking negatively about someone, try to determine the speaker's motivation and encourage accountability by asking questions such as: "Is this something I need to hear about?" "Who told you this information?" "Have you spoken to those people who are directly involved with this situation?" and "Before you share any further, what are you expecting from me?"

Use powerful positive words to heal when confronted with destructive, negative words. Respond to gossip or criticism with encouraging words about the person being talked about, and ask the person spreading the negativity to pray for the person about whom he or she is talking.

Be proactive and speak positively about others. Use the power of your words to build up and to encourage. Of course, you shouldn't build up someone who is practicing evil--in such a case, it is better just to remain quiet. But be on the lookout for good.

Think. Subscribe to a simple formula, "THINK," before speaking of any person or subject that is perhaps controversial. If what you were going to say doesn't pass the following tests, don't say it.

T--Is it true?
H--Is it helpful?
I--Is it inspiring?
N--Is it necessary?
K--Is it kind?

Perhaps Paul put it best when he said, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). By doing this gossip will be stopped. Let us all strive to use the power of our words for healing.

Copyright 2001 by United Church of God, an International Association All rights reserved.


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