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What Does it Mean to "Spill the Tea" and Are You Guilty of It?

Teapot spilling tea

One of the first uses of the term “Spill the Tea” or “That’s the Tea” was used in 1994. But it’s really been only in the last decade that this saying has spread throughout the Internet and become a part of popular language.

What does it mean? Simply put, it means to gossip or share something juicy that isn’t otherwise known. Urban Dictionary defines it as: “when one tells an especially juicy bit of gossip.” In many cases, you’ll see this done in fun on silly online videos, or used to share the latest celebrity news, and sometimes to share one’s opinion on something.

So, is spilling the tea a bad thing? And how do we know if we’re guilty of it?

One could make the blanket argument that spilling the tea is gossip and slanderous and, therefore, in that context, wrong. From another angle, sometimes “spilling the tea” is done in good fun and jest with no harmful intentions and no mission to spread news that isn’t yours to spread. However, let’s assume that we remove the fun and humor from harmless tea-spilling and instead consider the damages that gossip can cause.

This shouldn’t come as a new concept to any of us. One simple watch of a movie like Mean Girls can show us how it feels to be the recipient of slanderous conversation. And one of the worst betrayals is having a guarded secret spilled for the world to know. Not only can it be embarrassing, but it can also be traumatizing and sometimes even damaging to our reputation and credibility.

Considering the consequences of “spilling the tea” in its most negative form, is it possible to be partaking in this practice and being guilty of it but not be aware of it? Probably, yes. Because so often, conversations evolve, and not always are they intended to be malicious. Sometimes we fall into the temptation of tea-spilling, and it’s only later we may realize we’ve crossed lines that should not have been crossed.

What are some signs that you may be guilty of spilling the tea?

Satisfaction with being the first to reveal. 

Sometimes the reason we are so excited to share news, whether positive or negative, is there’s something competitively satisfying in being the first to reveal the news to someone who’s not yet heard it. This can be as detrimental as whispering behind your hand about someone’s recent adulterous indiscretion or perhaps sharing the good news of someone’s pregnancy yet-to-be-made-public. Often, we justify this action by prefacing it with an “I’m trusting you won’t share this with anyone else.” Somehow, that reiteration of intended secrecy and discretion is shifted onto the next person, thus giving you free rein to produce the tea—and spill it.

Keep in mind, yes, you may be able to trust the person you’re sharing it with. But is it your news to tell? Is it going to assist, reinforce, or support the person about whom the secret is being told? Be cautious that the gluttony of being the first to reveal doesn’t jeopardize relationships and doesn’t suck you into the bitterness of bad tea.

Uninvolved confident sharing.

What is this? It’s sharing information (or “tea”) with individuals not involved in the situation and, therefore, easily justified as “okay” to share it with. In other words, sometimes there’s that one person who is totally unrelated to the news you wish to share. They don’t know the individuals involved. Perhaps they live in a different state. Or maybe, the information you’re choosing to share has little to no risk of circling back and hurting any parties involved.

This is possibly one of the more common ways we unknowingly spill the tea, or we choose to ignore the fact that what we’re sharing is still gossip. Sometimes we have that news we’re just bursting to share. Even if it’s positive news, it is still not ours to tell in many circumstances. Just because our confidant isn’t related to the situation doesn’t justify our tilting the teapot and pouring it out.

Sharing on behalf of prayer.

How often have you justified sharing information with someone under the guise of a prayer request? This frequently happens within the Christian body and is a creative but sneaky way of gossiping. We disguise it under the cloak of concern, pious need to take something before the Lord, and validate it under the Scripture of “where two or three are gathered.”

Sharing someone’s struggles under the umbrella of prayer is a dangerous thing. Not only are the repercussions for the individuals involved potentially hurtful and damaging, but it also damages your own coming before the Lord and into His presence. Use caution when sharing prayer requests that don’t involve your personal needs. Ask permission of the parties involved before adding it to the prayer list, activating a prayer chain, posting it on the board at a prayer meeting, or displaying it on your social media under the guise of concerned prayer.

Receiving the spilled tea.

Maybe you are a mouth-shut type of person and a vault when it comes to not gossiping, not spreading news that isn’t yours to spread, and so on. But are you skilled at receiving it? Sometimes we think ourselves free of blame when it comes to spilling the tea. We don’t partake in the spreading of slander—or so we think.

Keep in mind that listening to gossip can be just as damaging. It gives the person spilling the tea permission to spill. It aids in the justification of the action, and it doesn’t apply the brakes to the potentially harmful situation. As a receiver, you can change the course of the information flow by shutting it down or by absorbing it. Even if you don’t pass it along, you have inadvertently communicated to the person telling you that their sharing it is okay. There are no red flags to say harm may be being caused.

Spilling the tea is addictive. Many people gravitate toward it. Tabloids make a mint off of it. Often, the tea that is spilled isn’t accurate. It’s biased, tampered with, exaggerated, or taken out of context.

Most of us like to know what’s going on in the world. Sure, one could argue public figures have opened themselves up for exposure, to be photographed, talked about, etc. Ask yourself, “is it helping that person?” Even if you don’t know them? Recently, I was watching excerpts of a celebrity trial. These video snips were edited to take the side of one or the other, often painting the other to appear moronic, cold, or silly. Frequently, they expand on opinion rather than fact, and the stories being spread are so questionably accurate that it makes one wonder why our culture is so riveted with following it. Someone else’s pain and struggle becoming our entertainment? Is the value of spilling the tea worth the expense of another’s emotional and mental health?

So while some may argue that some spilling of the tea is harmless and all in fun, be careful as you walk the line that you don’t cross over and get doused in it yourself. Tea is often hot, after all, and spilled tea leaves burns behind that can easily turn to scars.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/WiroKlyngz

Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!




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