Parties and picnics are a huge part of summer where we gather with friends and family for hamburgers and hotdogs, potato salad and coleslaw, watermelon and popsicles. In the midst of all this socializing, gossip seeps in virtually unnoticed. Constant exposure has deadened our sensitivity to its soiling effect. We have set a place for gossip at our table, and the table cloth has become dingy. The silverware is set neatly around a plate piled high with gossip.
“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11:13, NIV). Gossip is a knife that betrays trust, and stabs people in the back. The King James Version uses the word “talebearer.” The gossip tells tales, shares personal or private information and can embarrass or damage a person’s reputation.
While slander is flagrantly false, gossip may be entirely truthful. However, it often involves misinformation, partial truths or a narrow perspective. Even when accurate, it is information that is hurtful and unnecessarily spread; just because something is true does not justify sharing it with others. The knife cuts just as deeply whether the information is true or not.
“A perverse man stirs up dissension and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28, NIV). Gossip is a spoon, stirring up discord. It creates division between the subject and those engaged in the gossip.
Gossip plants seeds of dislike or mistrust and positive regard for an individual is jeopardized. “So and so did this last week,” or “So and so spent their money this way,” or “This is why so and so lost their job.” Second hand reports of so-called unsavory behavior or attitudes interfere with accurate impressions of a person. Feelings are hurt, intimacy is thwarted and goodwill is set aside. The spoon stirs up and presses everything out to the edges of the dish.
“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8, NIV). Gossip is a fork, a conveyor of tasty morsels. We know having the dessert is wrong, but we can’t resist it because the smell of it makes our mouths water. The precursory “Did you hear about…” piques the curiosity and arouses the appetite. One cannot help but wonder what juicy nugget will follow. Wisdom would dictate silencing the talebearer. We are too interested to interject non-interest, even though that would prevent so much pain and damage. We love to know the dirt, because it is a choice morsel that goes down easy.
Not only are we curious, but we want to be included and be part of a secret. A mutual condescension unites the teller and the listener and to cut off gossip is to willingly exclude oneself and become an outsider. We fear becoming the likely subject of future gossip.
Gossip is difficult to resist; we underestimate its impact and excuse its prevalence. We tolerate it in our conversations because these tasty morsels overpower our concerns for the person we are gossiping about. We stir the spoon and thrust the knife for our own agenda.
And since these three utensils make up a place setting wrapped neatly in a napkin, it is hard to imagine disposing of the set and replacing them with new silverware. But that’s our call! “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).