A neighbor waved me over to where she was sitting by the edge of our community pool, talking with a few other people. As I got closer, I heard them discussing another neighbor who wasn’t present. “Did you hear that she left her husband?” my neighbor asked me.
“No,” I replied, surprised to hear that the marriage of a couple who had seemed close was ending. I wanted to know why, but didn’t verbalize my curiosity, since it was really none of my business.
“We can’t figure out why,” someone else said, as if she knew what I was thinking. “It was just so sudden.”
“Well, her kids were always acting out,” someone chimed in from a nearby chaise lounge. “There’s probably been a lot of stress at their home for a long time, and we just didn’t realize it.”
“The kids are going to do even worse now,” said the neighbor who had called me over. “Now they won’t get to see their dad as much. Whatever was going on, I don’t think she should have just left. That was selfish. She should have thought of her kids.”
Anger welled up inside of me as I listened to them gossip about a caring woman who had spent several years serving many of our children as a volunteer leader of a scout troop.
“I’m sure she thought of her kids,” I blurted out. “She cares about her kids, just like any mom does. And she cares about our kids, too. Remember how she led the troop for three years?”
Silence. The group of neighbors stared at me for what was probably just a few moments, but what felt like an agonizingly long time. What are they going to say next? I wondered. Then someone changed the subject, and the conversation moved on to a healthier place.
When I saw our soon-to-be-divorced neighbor later, I didn’t ask about her marital troubles, but she brought them up, assuming I’d heard gossip about her. Then she revealed that her husband had been abusing her for many years, which is why she finally left. Afterward, I felt an urge to tell the other moms who knew her why her marriage had broken up. That could help them not judge her so harshly, I reasoned. But then I hesitated, realizing that by attempting to stop gossip like that, I would actually be gossiping myself!
Everyone loves to hear a good story, but when that story damages someone’s reputation, it’s not worth telling. In fact, telling any negative story about a person who isn’t there to defend himself or herself involves gossiping. Since gossip can seem well-intentioned to us at times – such as when we’re asking others to pray for someone in need – we don’t often see how it’s a big deal. But gossip is a sin that God takes seriously. God declares in Leviticus 19:16
: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.”
So the next time you hear gossip about someone, don’t participate. You don’t have to listen, either – and in fact, you shouldn’t, since listening to gossip only encourages others to continue to talk badly about others. Instead, you can stop gossip in its tracks.
If you're wondering how to stop gossiping, here are 5 ways you can do so:
1. Change the subject.
Distract people from gossiping by bringing up another subject in the conversation. Something that’s interesting – yet positive – to talk about can redirect people’s focus away from gossip, while also sending them a clear signal that you don’t want to talk about the gossip they had been discussing. In Ephesians 4:29
, the Bible
urges: “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.” If a conversation isn’t heading in a helpful direction, choose to be the one who changes its course by changing the subject.
2. Say something positive about the person who’s the target of gossip.
No matter how negative a gossipy story about a person may be, there are positive qualities to that person, since he or she is made in God’s image. Remind people who are gossiping that the person they’re talking about has said or done something good by mentioning something specific that’s positive, just like I mentioned my neighbor’s volunteer service to our children. “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things,” the Bible says in Philippians 4:8
3. Confront gossip politely yet firmly.
Stand up to people who are gossiping by saying that you don’t want to know about the story they’re trying to tell you. Don’t hesitate to directly call the gossip what it is, but do so with grace. For example, you could say something like: “That sounds like gossip to me, so I don’t really want to hear any more. Let’s just drop it.” Saying something like that isn’t too harsh; it’s simply holding others accountable for their choice of words. Jesus reveals in Matthew 12:36-37
that “…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” God places a high value on keeping people accountable for their words.
4. Point out missing information.
Ask questions that point out holes in a gossipy story, such as specific times and places of events that supposedly happened. Challenge gossiping people to tell you how they personally verified the information they’re spreading about others. Help them see that just because they heard a story doesn’t mean it’s true – and even if it is, they can’t possibly have an accurate perspective on the situation unless they experienced every detail of it personally. Likewise, no one can assume what someone else’s motives are, as 1 Corinthians 2:11
points out when it says, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” Help people see that gossip isn’t reliable information.
5. Turn gossip into prayers
. Whenever you hear gossip, pray for the people whom the gossip targets. Talk with God – but not other people! – about the negative stories you’ve heard through gossip, asking God to intervene in each situation to help each person involved, if in fact there’s actually any truth to the stories. Pray for the Holy Spirit to help people overcome the attacks to their reputations. You can pray these words from Isaiah 54:17
over them: “no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.” View every time you encounter gossip as an opportunity to bless the people involved by praying for them.
Whenever you successfully stop gossip, you prevent further damage to relationships and help usher God’s peace into them. That’s a powerful way to live out your faith
! Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:9
: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, produces a site about angels and miracles for About.com. She is author of the young adult inspirational novel Dream Factory (which is set during Hollywood's golden age) and writes about the power of thoughts on her “Renewing Your Mind” blog.
Publication date: June 12, 2015