Gossip is a dangerous thing. Not only can it hurt somebody’s feelings, but it can ruin reputations and relationships, and it makes trust almost possible to come by.
I know that some people gossip because it makes them feel important. Others do it because it is their only way to feel connected. However, sometimes I feel like the most dangerous type of gossip is the kind that people convince themselves is not actually gossip.
There are several ways that people do this, and it is sometimes hard to detect. So much so, in fact, that I truly believe some do it without realizing that it is, indeed, gossip. So here are a few common ways that people use camouflage gossip. I encourage you to use this information for good (to stop yourself from doing it and to hold others accountable for it) and not for evil (to perfect the craft and become the most covert gossiper this world has ever seen).
1. Business – Due to the nature of my work, I am often in meetings where concerns about individuals are discussed. Over the course of my career, I have witnessed several times when brainstorming ways to support a student has turned into an all out dishing session about every known fact about them. Since it is done in the context of a meeting, it is passed off as important information. However, it is often nothing more than gossip wearing a business suit.
2. Baiting – While this is a more intentional kind of gossip, it is always masked as genuine concern. Whereas blatant gossipers come out and say what they know, baiters hint and hint until you ask them about something. Then they justify sharing the gossip by saying “it just came up” or “well, since you brought it up.” It may be premeditated, but some people can make it look like they have no choice but to share what they know.
3. Celebration – This may be the hardest method to detect because it is framed in such a positive way, but that is what makes it so dangerous. Celebratory gossip is usually made in the form of a gleeful announcement that has deeper implications. For example, “Did you hear that the Smiths got to keep their house after all? How great is that?!” Or “I heard that Joe has been sober for two months now. Praise God!” Of course they would have to tell the story of how the Smith family almost lost their home or how Joe’s alcoholism impacted his life. It’s like the flea flicker of gossip plays.
4. Prayer request – This method of covert gossip is by far the most heartbreaking. How dare we use something as sacred as talking with God to spread rumors and damage reputations? You have heard these requests. “We all need to pray for Larry and Sandy; you know they are having marital problems.” “Johnny has really been struggling with making ends meet lately, let’s be sure to pray for him.” Yes, those are things we should be praying about. And while I believe in full disclosure of needs, blessings, and sins alike, it is not our place to share other peoples’ baggage. You can request prayer without going into detail. You can speak to God on their behalf without sharing their secrets with everyone in the room. Seriously…not cool.
There is no question that it is wrong to share gossip. That is why we look for ways to camouflage it and pass it off as something positive or productive. That kind of justification, though, is never real. If there is something you have no business sharing, then you have NO BUSINESS sharing it in any setting. Let your words be few.
A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much. (Proverbs 20:19 NIV)