Thursday, June 14, 2007

Gossip is murder through words

Heard someone use that phrase in a sermon this week and although it was not the focus of the talk, just a quick comment at the very end, it occurred to me that maybe it should have been.

Too often people talk about other people without checking the facts first. They start talking to their friends, spreading rumours and the "killing" begins.

It happens in businesses when a boss decides that someone has complained to HR about something, but never checks with HR or with the employee before spreading it around to the rest of the team and destroying the morale.

It happens all the time in church circles, especially with the women. I've been wondering lately why that is.

Is it because women in churches are taught to "submit" and thus feel like they have no power? Is it because they've been taught that a "real woman" is meek and mild instead of strong and independent and the only way they have to be "strong" is through their shared dislike of someone? Is it because only those predisposed to gossip stick with Christianity and the church? Is it because the christian church isn't really teaching people how to effectively deal with conflict in healthy ways? Does it happen in other religions too? Are muslim, hindu and buddist women sitting around gossiping about one another as well?

I obviously don't have the answers.

But one thing I'm sure of, that preacher was spot on in his pronouncement of gossip as "murder through words"!! Gossip is hideous and it kills the relationships, respect, and reputations of all those involved with it.

I know first hand that it murders a part of the spirit of the one gossiped about (I refuse to use the word victim) And it kills the trust of those who know that person - they're never really sure if what was said is true or not, so they often quit talking to that person. The more the person protests that they've done nothing wrong, the more people back away.

Being the target of gossip kills the emotional sense of joy a person feels when they've been accepted into a group. It kills the belief that those around you are "good people" who are trustworthy and honest. It causes feelings of embarrassment, isolation and shame where there shouldn't be any.

I'd go so far as to say it even murders something inside the people doing the gossiping. Certainly, it must at some level kill off the trust and respect they had for the rest of the group. What's to stop them from turning on you next? After all, it happens all the time. That's why churches split, friendships end and communities fail. In business, careers are wrecked, promotions denied and opportunities lost.

It can be violent, pre-meditated and cold blooded! People are blindsided by it and find themselves disoriented by the shock. They find themselves feeling oddly insecure where once they were confident in their relationships with others. Perhaps they behave in ways they don't even understand as they try to sort out who's still on their "side" and who has walked away from their friendships.

It's not just the target of gossip that has to deal with the consequences either. The person's friends and family are often pulled into the situation in order to provide support. If they're loving, they will take the time to help the person recover. Otherwise, they ignore them and leave them to deal with it on their own, which can lead to depression, as the person withdraws into themself as a way to deal with the pain of being shamed, even when they know they are not guilty.

Gossip is a ghastly thing that can destroy the life of a church, business, or community if it's not stopped!

Women in particular need to learn how to deal with conflict in straight forward, assertive ways. To speak up when someone else is being gossiped about and commit themselves to not be afraid of standing up for themselves when they've been targeted.

We as women need to learn that strength does not come from getting with your friends and talking about someone else when you're offended and it certainly doesn't come from being meek, mild and mousy, like many are taught a "good christian woman" ought to be!

No, it comes from standing up for what is right, checking the facts and speaking directly and honestly to those involved, even at the risk of being misunderstood.

We should all remember the consquences the next time we plan on murdering someone else with our words!


  1. I'm gonna tell everyone what you said! Actually, it's a topic that needs to be repeated fairly regularly because we simply don't embrace the seriousness of the behavior. Good reminder. Welcome back, btw.

  2. L,
    This is profound. Great observations and questions.

  3. Well said.


  4. Love your site, love your postings - you are a talented observer of people!

    Hope this posts....

    Mrs. TDoS

  5. AMEN SISTER AMEN. I heard that on the Radio. a young man (16) was active in his church and people were talking about him behind his back. This frail saint could take it no longer, on his suicide note was "Gossip is murder through words"

    Preach it sister, preach the truth in love.

  6. Seriously Eric??
    I didn't know that. I just heard S say it in his sermon last week and it got me to thinking in light of recent events.

    I can understand how a 16yr old could get to that point though because it really does kill something inside you to know that people hate you enough to spend time talking about you behind your back and trying to bring you to harm. The "venting" to a friend stuff that lasts for a few minutes doesn't bother me. It is what it is and it's done. What bothers me is the prolonged attacks on someone's character or just the obviously careless passing on of information that's not been validated.
    The HR example is true. There really was a case at my last job where someone (not sure who) complained to HR about something the manager did. HR told the manager someone complained but didn't tell him who, so he "guessed" and started telling everyone else that this person had done it. Totally killed the morale cause no one knew what to believe, the person or the manager who was supposed to be "in the know". It was a big mess for the team. Could have easily been solved by the manager talking to the person to verify his assumption. Everyone paid for that mistake will lowered morale and increased friction.

    For a teenager, going through that kind of stuff for the first time and being able to actually see what people are saying, instead of hearing whispers in the hall way or people stopping when they walk in the room, it's got to be even harder.

    What a shame.

  7. We were discussing team building at work where most of the managers are women. When a woman has not played team sports and learned to interact for the benefit of the group the group suffers. How do you build a team when women don't know what a team is? Women tend to be competative with each other primarily for status and attention and want recognition rather than worrying about the group status. A lot of gossip is based on insecurity and one must try to make another look bad in order to feel important and then spreads this trash in order to somehow validate their feelings. I think this is a generational thing with older women because girls/women are much more involed in sports these days. Am I wrong about this or are women just alway catty?

    I don't have the answers and have been both the recipient of gossip and also guilty of gossip. I can't take back the wrong that I have done other than to ask for foregiveness and to foregive.

    I wish I had your insight. I love your blog. Keep it up.


  8. Hey there, Mrs. TDoS-
    It posted this time!

    Hope to see you around more often!


  9. Annon "L"

    No, I don't think women are just catty. What I think women are is afraid and uninformed about how to confront gossip head on.
    I've been watching how some guys I know do it and they just flat out say that the gossip is not true. Of course that's easier to do on a blog or email then verbally, but the idea is the same regardless.

    There's a great book I'd recommend to you and your team called "In the company of Women: Turning Workplace Conflict into Powerful Alliances" by Patrica Hiem and Susan Murphy.

    In the book they talk about how women always need to keep things equal. So for example, if one woman in the group gets promoted, then the other women will often say something like "yeah, but she slept her way there" or "yeah, but she really needs to get a new wardrobe"....anything that will bring her down a notch and put them all on equal footing again.

    It's a great book with lots of interesting insights into the ways women in the work force behave and why.

    I would assume those same "rules" of needing to be sure all women are on an equal "level" applies in other environments, such as churches, too.

    Now that I re-read your post, I think we're saying the same thing just using different words.

    Great minds and all that yeah? ;-)

  10. Everyone -

    When you've participated in gossip what has motivated your behavior? Is it anger and wanting to make someone else look bad, needing to "vent", fear of confronting them head on and working through the issues?

    Also, how do you define gossip? What makes something gossip vs "venting"? Is it ever ok to say something negative about someone? Where's the line and how do you know when you've crossed it?

    I'm curious what other people's experiences have been.

  11. When I've participated in gossip it's because I'm interested. I like to know everything. If it's good, I might learn something. If it's bad or being slanted as bad, I can come to the person's aid or push it the other way. The rule I use to keep myself straight is that anything I say about another person I have to say to their face.

  12. So Marianne - Where do you think the line between conversation and gossip is?
    If I notice a friend is acting "weird" and I mention that to another friend who says "oh yeah, her dog just died" that's not gossip to me.

    But, if I notice a friend is acting weird and then, without asking anyone about what's up, I start telling everyone "hey, don't you think Suzy Q is a weirdo? She's such a witch, totally ignored me and then bit my head off. She's just trying to make me look bad in front of the boss". That I think is gossip because it is intended to make Suzy Q look bad or cause her harm.

    Agree or no, not so much?

  13. Laura,
    I agree with your last illustration about what constitutes gossip. One seeks information in order to be helpful, the other ends up being harmful every time.

    Thanks for the link.