Will Rogers once said, “LIVE IN SUCH A WAY THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE ASHAMED TO SELL YOUR PARROT TO THE TOWN GOSSIP.” Abraham Lincoln’s coffin was opened in 1887 because a rumor had convinced many people that the pine box was empty. To the surprise of quite a few, Lincoln’s body was found just as it had been buried 22 years earlier. Some good rumors never die though. Fourteen years later the same rumor circulated again. The critics would not be silenced so Lincoln’s body was exhumed again. Like most rumors, facts really mess up a good rumor.
George Eliot said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.” Research shows rumors reveal our fears and desires. “It’s very important to hear about them the instant they start,” it says. “A rumor is like a fire. You have to be on the spot. Otherwise you find yourself working on hearsay about hearsay.” Rumors reveal the desires, fears and obsessions of our society. “They are an echo of ourselves.” Look at the tabloids in our stores. Rumors are hard to fight back, since some rumors seem irrefutable. An example is Sheila, a celebrated French pop singer. Her delivery of a baby did nothing to dampen rumors in France that she was a male transvestite.
In the book, Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back, Charles Swindoll writes about a woman who committed suicide. She left an unfinished note that simply read, “They said…” She never completed her final thought, but whatever “they said” was painful enough for her to extinguish her own life.
A little child asked a man to pick a flower for her. That was simple enough, so he did. But when he had done so, she said to him, “now put it back,” and the man said he experienced a helplessness which he had never known before. How can you explain to a child that it cannot be done? How can we make it clear there are some things which, when done, can never be undone. There are some words which, when spoken, can never be brought back.
Gossip in scripture is any conversation that has a malicious intent. We often think that gossip has to be a groundless rumor, however in the Bible whether it is true or not, is not at issue. Just because it is true does not mean that you can tell it. Idle chatter often opens doors for talking about someone. Prov 11:13 A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. The issue isn’t whether it is correct or incorrect information, but why is it told?
One of the things I like about the Book of Proverbs is that it tells you how it is! For the believer it has a solution for the person who gossips. Prov 20:19 A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. Did you hear that men? The man who talks too much. And we thought it was only a problem with women. One day, an 8 year old boy was playing beside an open window while a neighbor confided to his mother about another person. When the visitor was gone, the mother, realizing how much her son had overheard, called him to her side. “If Mrs. Brown had left her purse here just now, would you give it to someone else?” “Of course not!” the lad replied. “Ah,” the mother commented, “Mrs. Brown left something more precious than her purse. The story she told could hurt many people and cause much unhappiness. It still belongs to her, and we shall not pass it on to anyone.”
After three years of researching gossip, Indiana University sociologist Donna Eder has identified an important dynamic involved in gossip. Eder discovered that the initial negative statement was not the starting point for gossip. The critical turning point was found in the response to the initial negative statement. “She’s a real snob,” is not the start of gossip. It’s when someone else agrees that the gossip first begins. Eder found the key is whether or not a negative statement is “seconded.” If a second is provided, gossip ensues. If not, the conversation changes direction. The moral, you can abort gossip bound conversations by quickly affirming the person being targeted for negative comments.
If we come to view ourselves as working for an external reward, we will no longer find the activity worth doing in its own right. An elderly man, harassed by the taunts of the neighborhood children, devised a scheme. He offered to pay them a dollar each if they would return on Tuesday and yell their insults again. The children did so eagerly and received the money. Then he told them he would pay only twenty-five cents on Wednesday. When they returned, insulted him again and collected their quarters, he informed them that Thursday’s rate would be just a penny. “Forget it,” they said-and never taunted him again.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless (James 1:26). We say “words can be deadly” and indeed, sometimes they are, literally.” The sin of murder extends to the use of the tongue in gossip. To destroy someone’s reputation is the same as murdering that person. A person is no better then his/her reputation – it lies in our hands. A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he was to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.