There is the saying that, “small minds discuss people; average minds discuss events; great minds discuss ideas.” Certainly a great number of people fall into the first category: small minds. They find it extremely difficult to hold their tongue. Once they sit among friends or a group, they discuss people. They malign, slander, castigate, backbite, lie, criticize, and assassinate others’ characters, with no qualms. In many it has ‘become a habit and comes quite impulsively that little thought is given to its malice.
Honestly, it is hard to find someone who does not enjoy discussing others, especially portraying them in a negative light. Even aged folks who are supposed to have been taught by life itself, and people who themselves have been victims cherish it as one would cherish wine. Yet I have never seen a person who wants to be discussed by others and portrayed in a negative light. At such one feels deeply hurt, and the following lamentation could ensue, “I am being misunderstood and misrepresented ….”
In a certain discussion a person commended somebody who was well known to be doing very well in an area of his profession. The other person retorted, “Don’t mind that, these people you think are doing very well are not really good people, if I should open my mouth now you will shudder.” The third person came up in support, “think of it when he was in [he mentions the place], what did he achieve? Nothing.” I was there. The last speaker was of same profession with the person they are talking about, and has also worked in some places. I said to him, “what about you, do you not realise that somebody else might be somewhere saying you never achieved anything in more than four years you stayed in the places you worked?” He felt shocked; recoiled to himself, noticing that he would not like it in the least if someone were to be somewhere passing on him the same judgment he was passing on another.
Had I not broken the ‘chain of gossip’ the victim would have been torn to shreds before the discussion was over. And those who perhaps are hearing about him for the first time would find it hard to ever take that person as somebody of any substance again. When they see him in the future they are most likely to view him from that negative and biased perspective unless any of them has trained himself so well in the art of not taking gossip seriously which I try to teach here. When it concerns you, you will not like it to be taken seriously but when it concerns another, your guess is as good as mine.
What is Gossip
The Encarta dictionary defines gossip as “conversation about personal or intimate rumours or facts, especially when malicious.” And the gossiper is “somebody given to spreading personal or intimate information about other people.” To gossip or gossiping means to “to tell people rumours or personal or intimate facts about other people, especially maliciously.” Thus gossip can be used both as a noun and as a verb even as an adjective, gossipy.
The Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary says it is “informal talk or stories ~bout other people’s private lives that may be unkind or not true.” The verb gossip means “to talk about other people’s private lives often in an unkind way.” A gossiper is “a person who enjoys talking about other people’s private lives.” Chambers English Dictionary defines the gossiper as “one who goes about telling and hearing news, or idle, malicious, and scandalous tales.” These however differ from gossip as “a form of news characterized by its reference to personalities and its uncertain origin and reliability …. “ which is not our concern here.
Thus gossip has to do with meddling in other people’s affairs, rumors or facts; but then maliciously told. It may be “unkind or untrue.” You will agree with me that one needs to be an unkind person to tell unkind stories. And there is a serious friction between the unkind and the true. The unkindness necessarily thwarts the facts.
The gossiper “enjoys talking about other people’s private lives” and of course when it is negative. In other words it pleases the gossiper to hear that other people have gone wrong. So he or she ‘goes about,’ ‘telling and hearing’ idle, malicious, and scandalous tales. Does this not suggest one who is evil at heart? It takes such a person to tell, idle, malicious tales and to enjoy telling them.
Why do People Love to Gossip?
There is no gainsaying the fact that many people love gossiping and even swim in it Christians and non Christians alike. They do not care to verify a story before they tell it. And then, it spreads, only later to be discovered by those who make some efforts to verify, as frame-up or lies, in most cases! One wonders whether some people still find any relevance in the passage of the Scripture which says, “Nobody who fails to keep a tight rein on the tongue can claim to be religious; this is mere self deception; that person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
Many reasons can be proffered for which people love to gossip: one which lies hidden in the subconscious, is the fact that gossip seems a very cheap way of establishing relationship or even gaining acceptance. Since majority of people have small minds and can rarely rise above gossip in their discussions, to flow with them you need to resort to one form of gossip or another. And for sure, many dance to this. That is why gossipers have many friends or rather, customers. However the relationship is built on sand; soon it either grows into partnership in crime or is broken up by gossip among the gossipers.
Thus one of the strengths of gossip lies in the influence it has on the other person: it makes him feel the gossiper trusts him. This makes it very difficult for him to posit any doubt or outright contradiction of what he is being told. More often than not he panders to the tale, becoming an accomplice in the gossip, believing the tale and is ready to tell it to another: “they said … “ Meanwhile the two have now something in common at the expense of the person about whom they gossiped. This is why when the one who heard the gossip sees the person about whom he heard he holds him in low esteem, loathes him, looks down on him, etc; but he likes the one with whom he gossiped, and when he sees him he feels at ease with him, and greets him with smiles. Is gossip not powerful?
Secondly gossip has the tendency of making people look away from the faults and deficiencies of the gossiper but to concentrate on the person gossiped about. He or she becomes a suspect and every of his or her action susceptible to misinterpretation while the gossiper is left alone and often his or her faults and deficiencies condoned or neglected. It is like turning the searchlight on someone else. Often the gossiper is afraid that his or her faults are obvious and that of another not quite obvious, he or she points to another: this or that person has also this fault I have. I am not the only one involves in this. Often too the gossiper points to people who actually seem to be worse than him or her so that his or her own faults will be viewed as minor.
Being a form of self expression, one who gossips wants to express himself or herself to the other and possibly to win the other to his or her side – that is why the tale must be tailored to the cravings of the hearer. In this respect gossip could be as a result of insecurity, lack of self confidence, inferiority complex, etc. Thus, “the experience of envy” which often shows itself through gossip, “has been described as a consuming emotion in which ones weaknesses or flaws feel physically apparent. Low self-esteem, anxiety, hostility, depression or decreased self-efficacy may result.”
Gossip can also be caused by jealousy; what the same writer called, ‘Envying the Wicked,’ in his book, ‘The Desertion of God ….. ‘Here some people who think that they are doing better than others, but are not spiritually enlightened enough, consciously or unconsciously, feel that evil doers are enjoying what they do not enjoy – wrongly thinking evil as enjoyment -; jealousy creeps in. Their hearts grow bitter; they castigate them at the slightest opportunity. However this type of people are not truly steadfast. Most of them keep the law or God’s commandment merely out of the sense of decency. So it is not even that they avoid evil, they commit it more ‘responsibly,’ and perhaps not as much frequently. Another element in this, is pride. That is why you see some people who appear to be very good Christians but what comes out of their mouth against another is horrible.
Another reason why people like to gossip is because they are bitter in heart owing to the evil which lies hidden in them. Their eyes are therefore blurred. They hardly see any good in others; they hardly appreciate anything, and are hardly satisfied. This category of people is easily identified as they complain almost about everything. They carry their complaint about in search of support. Another element of this is that many people want everybody else to seem worse than they are or at least as bad as they are. You notice that people who are involved in certain evil are always eager to hear that another has committed such evil. They wouldn’t like to doubt it, it gives them some consolation. They go about spreading it.
The content of gossip is more often than not, character assassination, backbiting, castigation, etc. And when it has to do with colleagues, the element of envy comes into play. According to some researchers in the area of envy “it is easy to imagine how the nature of organizational life gives rise to frequent social comparisons that may give rise to envy.” By this they mean that social comparison is a fact. And it is almost always applied to people who work in a group, organization, Churches, parishes, institutions, etc.