In the book of James, we hear:
- People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)
We hear that the tongue can never be tamed, but I don’t believe that.
Our tongues can be used for many things: some good and some bad, some nourishing and some detrimental. Let’s look at some of the ways we use our tongue.
Too often our tongues are used for gossip.
Just exactly what is gossip?
- Gossip is second or third hand information that someone dumps on you without you asking for it, or without the person being gossiped about knowing about. Gossip can be true, but is usually partially true, or completely false. It is always negative personal information about another that puts them in a bad light, even if the gossiper has good intentions.
Then there is slander.
What is slander?
- The Bible defines slander as ‘speech that is harmful to a person’s name and reputation’. It’s essentially character assassination . . . the act of smearing someone. Gossip and slander color people’s perceptions of an individual unfairly and unjustly without their knowledge or consent.
One major component in gossip and slander is that the person being torn down is out of the loop.
Gossipers and slanders do not speak directly to the one they are demeaning – because they know their motives are destructive.
Think about sometime that you have heard gossip about someone and their hurt when it finally got back to them. Did you ever think how deeply a person and their family could be hurt when someone attacks their character without their knowledge or consent.
Why do people gossip about others?
- They may be suspicious of the motives of others
- They could be easily offended (thin-skinned)
- They may be envious and jealousy
- They may continue to believe the worst about others
- They often judge others for misbehaviors they are prone to
- Becoming the Holy Spirit for others
- They may use others as a scapegoats to get out of sticky situations
- Often they tear down others so that they look better*
It seems that most people who spread gossip never think about this. Nor do they realize that what they’re doing is gossiping. (Some people, who intend to smear another person, in fact do know exactly what they’re doing. Others, naively spread gossip without realizing what sort of destruction it brings in the lives of others.)
Here’s a tip: always evaluate people based on your own first-hand experience with them, not on what someone else tells you about them. And remember:
- Treat others the way you want to be treated. (Luke 6:31)
No one wishes to be the subject of gossip. If you hear someone gossiping about another, never pass along anything that will hurt them.
So what should we do if we hear gossip about someone else?
First, we should consider these questions:
- Would I want someone talking about me like this?
- How would my family feel about this?
- Would I want someone talking about my spouse, my mother, my father, my children, my best friends?
Most people don’t think about this when they hear or spread gossip about another individual.
If someone begins to say things that put another in a bad light, we have a responsibility to interrupt such speech and tell them we want no part of the gossip. If an email containing gossip is sent to us, we should disregard the content (that’s what the delete button is for!).
Plus we should go to the person being targeted and make them aware of it. Think about it: If someone was spreading something negative about you, would you not want to be made aware of it?
Have you ever noticed that gossip that tears others down travels like a brush fire, but news of good things about a person seems to move along at a snail’s pace? Why is it that we often immediately believe and embrace negative assessments of people, but good things about a person are not believed?
Gossip is like poison that once someone drinks, they cannot get out of their system. And it always separates people. Even close friends and loved ones. Gossip not only damages the person being gossiped about, but it also damages the person hearing the gossip and the person passing along the gossip, for it causes them to judge the other unfairly.
But our tongues can also be used to praise people.
How many times have you said something nice about someone?
How many times have you told a person they looked nice?
How many times have you acknowledged to the person that they did something to make the world a better place?
How many times have you told someone that you really liked them and wanted to be their friend?
How many times have you said ‘thank you’ when someone did something for you, no matter how small?
This is what we should be doing with our tongues – praising people and raising up the goodness in the world. We can bring peace rather than contention – just by what words come out of our mouths!
In Ephesians 4:29, we are reminded:
- Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
How are you going to use your tongue for today? Tomorrow? This week?
Are you going to build up people or tear them down?
What would you like to hear about yourself?
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, Your Words only reflect wonders; help us respect others, that we may never gossip against anyone. Let us remember that we are all beloved children of God and worthy in your eyes. Help us to use our tongues only for good, not bad. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 7
*Marsha Fisher, “Accusation,” Be In Health Conference, April 29, 2008, Thomaston GA