Monday, December 5, 2011

Avoiding Gossip ... by Cindy Beck

Tags: gossip, morals, Latter-day Saints

Photo © Lusi

Have you ever started to mention something and then stopped because you were worried you might be gossiping? Or thought about telling a church leader information you’d heard but didn’t for fear he/she would think you were just spreading the latest rumor? Sometimes it’s hard to know if we should share that juicy tidbit that we heard through the grapevine, or let it shrivel and die like an old, wrinkly raisin.

The dictionary defines gossip as, “Idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” That doesn’t really explain it all, though, because sometimes it’s hard to know when a piece of information really is gossip, or if it’s a piece of info that should be shared.

Here’s a list of red flags to heed in order to avoid gossiping.

I Probably Shouldn’t Tell This
Sometimes I’ve overheard another person start to say something and then stop, saying, “I probably shouldn’t tell this; I don’t want to gossip.”

When that happens I’ll think, Ah yes, it’s too late. You can’t back out now after mentioning you know something others don’t. Curiosity will get the better of someone in the group and you’ll be pressured to spill the beans!

People may genuinely mean the phrase, “I shouldn’t tell” and when it slips out, they’ll refuse to cave and tell everyone the information. Other times, however.…

Some people use the phrase as an introduction. They know they intend to gossip, and by allowing others to pressure them into telling, they feel less guilty. After all, they didn’t want to tell, but the group made them. Perhaps they’ll even be able to say the devil made them do it! Shared guilt always feels so much less guilty … or so we rationalize.

Any time the thought, “I probably shouldn’t tell this,” occurs it’s wise to think twice before revealing the information.

It Itches and I Must Scratch
Gossip carries a unique feeling with it. It’s a cross between excitement at being the one to share something others don’t know, and guilt at disclosing information that might hurt or defame someone. It’s like a big, red mosquito bite on the bottom of the foot—an itch that can’t be easily scratched. Once the shoe is off and the scratching begins, it never feels as good as we thought it would.

When that “itchy” feeling grabs hold, take it as a warning and don’t disclose the news.

But Everyone Needs to Know This
There are times when everyone needs to know something. If someone in the ward is ill and no one knows about it, then no one will bring in a meal. If there’s been a murder, rape or robbery in the neighborhood, other neighbors need to know in order to take protective action. At that point the issue of gossip becomes one of degree. We have to ask ourselves, “What’s the least amount of information that I need to disclose in order to help?”

As a Relief Society president, people will often want to tell me information but are afraid they’ll be gossiping. I try to assure them that telling information to appropriate priesthood and auxiliary leaders is not gossiping. Neither the bishop nor I can help others without knowing what’s wrong.

Young Men and Young Women leaders can’t help wayward youth if they don’t know anything about the youth in their charge. Elders Quorums and High Priest Quorums can’t help with temporal affairs when they have no idea what situations are going on in the members’ lives.

There is a caveat here, though, and it lies in purpose. If we relay the information just to spread the news, and because we want everyone to know of someone else’s tragedy, dilemma, bad luck, or “unpardonable” sin, it’s still gossip. If we’re informing appropriate leaders by giving only the info that’s necessary and with the intent of helping those in need, then we’re not gossiping.

Perhaps the previous dictionary definition has a clue after all. The operative word is “idle” which indicates that gossip is something indulged in to pass the time – a practice without any redeeming value. Gossip neither enriches the teller nor the hearer, and hurts relationships more than it helps.

Here’s an interesting exercise. Picture the resurrected Savior sitting and telling the other eleven apostles about Peter denying him before the cock had crowed thrice (Matthew 26:75) … laying out all of Peter’s fears and foibles for everyone to laugh about and to feel superior over.

Having a hard time picturing that? Me, too, because it’s not something the Savior would ever do. Since following the Savior’s example is the goal of all Latter-day Saints, it behooves us to heed the warning signs and refuse to even start down gossip’s hurtful path.

Related Reading
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Looking for the Good,” Liahona.

------ "Avoiding Gossip" © Cindy Beck, 2011------

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