Tuesday, October 22, 2013

So, Is This Gossip?

After I speak to a group like the Kylertown Center for Active Learning or the Clearfield WOW or CLC's Conversations at the Castle, I'm almost always asked specific questions about particular kinds of conversations with the tagline: "So, is this gossip?"

  • "We talk about those who aren't here at our group and why they might have had to miss. Maybe they are sick. Is that like King David in Psalm 41? Is that gossip?"
  • "I tell my friends what I heard on the police scanner. Is that gossip?"
  • "I'm going out for dinner with my classmates from long ago, and I know we're going to get to asking what happened to all of our old friends and sharing people's histories. Is that gossip?"
I love that question!

I used to hate that question because I didn't have much clarity about gossip, but now I see it as a mark of growing maturity that it's even being asked.

The first thing I do is to say, "Maybe. It depends." My first inclination is to to reassure folks that they have not fallen into a trap, but I don't know if they have or haven't. Perhaps they have listened to my talk and the Spirit is tapping them on the shoulder with His loving conviction.

The second thing I say is, "Let's go back to our definition. The sin of gossip is bearing bad news behind someone's back out of a bad heart. Do you think you are doing that?" And we go over their specific question applying this definition.

Often, they are sharing some bad news, but it's not in a secretive, clandestine way. There is no "hiding" this sharing from the person being talked about. They wouldn't mind the subject knowing that they were talking about them. And often, there is a loving motive behind their talk.

So most of the time, the third thing I say is, "Sounds to me like you are fine. It doesn't sound like that is gossip."

But then, fourthly, I always try to say, "But I can see how that situation could turn into gossip." And I give them "frinstances" where the motive for sharing the bad news might get skewed or the talking might become sneakily clandestine. It's not always obvious because of all of the factors involved, including especially motive. 

I enjoy this part of the conversation. Heads begin to nod up and down and lights go on behind people's eyes. Sometimes the discussion goes deeper and sometimes it moves in a new direction. I enjoy it because it means that people are learning and are trying to actually apply what they have learned to their every day lives. That's what it's all about!


By the way, this approach may sound too subjective to some. I know that it sometimes feels too subjective to me, especially since I don't always know my heart much less someone else's.  And yet, I do think this is a biblical way of understanding and addressing the problem. It fits with the "messiness" and complexity of every day life without falling into the error of complete subjectivity and total relativity.

Along these lines, I was helped by this article by Justin Taylor, quoting Peter Kreeft: Can You Be a Moral Absolutist If You Think It Sometimes Depends on the Motives and Situation? Yes, you can and should.