Rumor Has It: the Poison of Gossip

gossipersThe habit of gossiping is one that is entirely destructive, and can be likened to an addiction to smoking cigarettes, easy to catch and difficult to get rid of. Both gossiping and smoking provide opportunities to superficially meet and bond with others and also present alternatives to quality conversation. In much the same way as lighting up a quick cigarette fills an awkward silence, telling a rumor also replaces good, wholesome conversation. They also share the obvious similarity of being a habit that is known to be harmful both to ourselves and to others, and yet we often still choose to indulge in it, even though the consequences can be severe and the damage irreversible.

One of the main problems with gossiping is how easily it can ruin the reputation of another. Shana Alexander once said, “Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell.” Once something is said, you can neither take it back nor guarantee that it will not be repeated. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to create suspicion–an idle comment implying that someone is a hopeless flirt, or a careless story told of how badly someone acted while drunk, and the damage is done. Although many times we try to justify ourselves doing this by saying that that it is our duty “as a friend” to enlighten someone else, and we are “helping” others by telling them the truth, we sometimes forget that we also owe others compassion and mercy as well. Whether the information is true or not, it is not our job to pass it on.

In addition, gossiping tends to go hand in hand with hypocrisy because the act of judging others makes us feel like we are more righteous and less sinful than those we talk about. We find a way to blind ourselves to the fact that we often are committing the same sin as those who we gossip about–we even gossip about others who gossip, pretending that, somehow, it isn’t bad when we do it, only when they do it. It is this same deceptive attitude that allows us as gossipers to pretend that no one ever talks about us, as if we were somehow safe from gossip ourselves (because there is clearly nothing about us deserving of gossip, right?). As a Spanish proverb goes, “Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” We of all people should know that is true, and that, again, gossiping doesn’t have to be true to be told and repeated.

Gossiping also unfortunately encourages a delight over other people’s sins and failings, conditioning us to view those bad actions as far more “valuable” than good actions. We don’t make it our business to know how virtuous people are being–we only want to know about the evil in their lives, and we want to know all details so that we can fully enjoy it (that is, “sympathize”). It is not right that we should be more excited and pleased to hear of a nasty divorce than a peaceful resolution to a friend’s marriage issues, for instance. There is a spirit of greed in gossiping, a savoring of someone else’s sorrow or pain, which is poison to those involved.

Remember, gossip is a vice that inherently involves multiple people: the person who is talked about, the person who is talked to, and the gossiper. After all, what is the point of telling a rumor if there is no one to hear it? It is important to point out that, while smoking is a choice that we have the right to make, we do not have the right to choose to carelessly hurt the reputations of others or invade their privacy. Just like second hand smoke, gossiping also does harm no matter who is exposed to it, regardless of whether they are willing participants or not. And although smoking zones may have be an answer to secondhand smoke issues from cigarettes, there should never be “zones” where gossiping is allowed. In fact, we should strive to make wherever we ourselves are a “no gossip zone” and to do all we can to speak only words of kindness and compassion, so that when they leave us, they do only good.

Rebecca Smith

By

Rebecca Smith is a music teacher at two Catholic elementary schools, and currently serves as an organist, choir director and cantor for two Catholic parishes. She can be reached at rebeccasmith.rcc@gmail.com.

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  • Brother Adam Laszlo Farkas,OFM

    Excellent article. I never thought of linking the two – gossiping is an addiction! In the movie “Doubt” the priest gives a great example when a women goes to confession and says she gossips and the priest tells her to go home and cut a pillow in half and watch the feathers fly and then go and pick everyone up – the lady says that it is impossible and the priest says – exactly that is gossiping. Thanks for the wonderful article!

  • Jacqueleen

    Is Gossip a sin against the 8th Commandment?

  • Lynda

    Thank you for this article, so many do not understand how God hates gossip (the picture is funny but believe me, men like to gossip too!). We are to “judge” others behavior as good and evil but not the person and especially not speaking rumors about a person. We certainly can discuss good and evil behavior to our Priest, spouse or a family member in confidence knowing it is IN CONFIDENCE and not as gossip that is carelessness and would hurt another’s reputation. (good article on that: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/judge-not).

    From Scripture: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37). Wow, that’s enough for me!

  • Terry

    That was an excellent article and reminder. Thank you.

  • Lynda

    Thank you again, that reference to “Catholic Answers Magazine” did not show up in my comment so here it is again (hope it shows as it seems a good article on the subject):

    http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/judge-not

  • francine

    Hi. Any recommendations when you are new to a work environment where everyone gossips about each other and you have to work with all parties?

  • Deoacveritatimyfaithsustainsm

    Thank you, I totally agree with you.

  • John

    Sins against the 8th commandment, which include detraction, calumny and slander ravage our communities and are rarely mentioned at Mass. There’s a good article under the either commandment in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most just play them down as if they are not that bad, and some use it when they feel particularly lured by envy and malice like with Cain & Able then play it down when exposed as if it’s not that bad. It often done in secret, not that doing it openly makes it any better.

  • http://twitter.com/Toupsfamily James Toups

    Excellent article. Gossip is cruel. I have found the best response is a simple “I do not enter to talk ugly about anyone.” It usually stops. Be prepared for them to talk behind your back though.

  • Clement_W

    Great article. While reading this, it came to mind that there is a large element of Envy involved in gossip.

  • Rujee Linger

    I just want to say Thank you’ I’m so glad and happy to red this… is doesn’t matter what kind of “RELIGIONS” we are haves and are believed in the seam thing…

  • María

    Jacqueleen, gossip is a sin against the 5th commandment: Thou shalt not kill (i.e. kill someone’s reputation).

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IQQJAVAWYG7GT6EPKKTBBKTQSM Sal

    I am not sure where this originated, but –
    A priest was hearing confession, and the woman said, ‘I have injured the good name of my neighbor’. The priest said, ‘before I give you absolution, take your pillow to the local tower, go to the top, cut it open and let the feathers out.’ The woman was confused, but did as told. She returned and said, ‘I have done as you told me.’ He said, ‘go now, and pick up all those feathers, those are the consequences of your gossip.’

    Once those words go beyond our lips, it is mostly impossible to retrieve them.

  • John

    It is especially prevalent in catholic communities. “Keep so and so in your prayers because they……” Then the need for prayer is forgotten as the gossiping commences.

  • CE User

    Is anyone else offended by the fact that the only people in the picture are stereotypical suburban housewives? Don’t men gossip, too ): ?

  • kirk

    I especially like the spontaneous Prayers of the Faithful (in small group settings) that goes like this:

    -Lord Jesus, help my neighbor, xxx, down the street who, after her husband leaves for work, entertains many of the husbands and sons of other neighbors while hers are out, Help her to sin no more…
    …as if praying the gossip makes it okay.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kathleen.riney Kathleen Riney

    Change the subject whenever anything comes up…they’ll stop, at least around you. Of course, you’ll probably be the new target! :+))

  • QuoVadisAnima

    I’m offended by the modern tendency to be offended by everything! (JK! sort of)

  • He has called you!

    My family has been completely destroyed by a gossiping sister inlaw and her adult children. The pain they caused my family is horrible most of the damage was done over the phone. When I asked my brother inlaw about it his reply was ” They only want the best its all in good conscience”. It all hurt so badly, the good news is it pulled our family together as well as our marriage and WE TURNED TO GOD, and boy was be there to comfort us.

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