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Gossips Anonymous

A little while back, I learned a very juicy (and heartbreaking) tidbit of info. While I was dying to follow up with a "Why? What happened?" I didn't. I simply said I'd pray for the people involved but wouldn't talk about it anymore. And although immediately five friends sprang to mind who would LOVE to hear this tidbit, I didn't call or email any of them. Not because I'm so righteous or so above gossip. Instead it's because I'm so broken and am a gossip - albeit, one in "recovery."

You see, a few years ago after working through a "fearless moral inventory" of myself, of all the bad things I am (jealous, materialistic, judgmental?) gossip really rose to the top (the cream of my sins, you might say) as something that eats at my soul and hinders my Christian life. While I was never the type of gossip who'd start rumors or betray a confidence, I certainly listened to rumors and to others betray confidences (thinking this was okay since the buck would stop with me. Which it did.) And I did my fair share of passing on "news" or sharing someone else's unfortunate experience simply so I could dissect it with friends - thinking we did this only out of concern and love, of course. But all the while I got quite the rush out of all that "concern" and "love."

So when I realized the horrid role gossip played in my life, I repented and asked God to remove my desire to hear and share and enjoy other people's business. And is so often the case with God, had I known how he was going to answer this and deliver me from my affliction, I might never have asked!

It seemed no sooner did I pray, than a whole slew of events began swirling around my life - each of which made me the target of gossip: My parents split up (happy family illusion shattered!). My dad could be dating - I don't ask (whom might he be seen with around town now?). My husband's business nosedived for a bit, and we took a financial hit (they'll start wondering why we don't take those nice vacations anymore!). My husband - prompted by the Holy Spirit - started opening up in a pretty public way about some issues he struggled with in his life (perfect family illusion, shattered again!).

Understanding what it felt like to be the gossipee, made me quit cold turkey. Well, sort of. My husband reminds me that those celebrity blogs I visit don't exactly keep me on the wagon. And kind of like how recovering food addicts need to navigate the treacherous terrain of what constitutes healthy eating and what is compulsive eating, In leadership positions, especially, I've found myself confronted often with what constitutes gossip and what is simply sharing stories, passing important information, or creating community, even. Deborah Tannen in You Just Don't Understand goes so far as to defend the role of gossip in a woman's life. In a chapter called, "Gossip," she writes: "Although gossip can be destructive, it isn't always; it can serve a crucial function in establishing intimacy - especially if it is not ?talking against' but simply ?talking about'" (emphasis mine).

As much as I appreciate the wisdom of this linguist, the wisdom of the One Who Invented Language says this in Proverbs 16:28, "The perverse stir up dissention, and gossips separate close friends" (TNIV; again, emphasis mine).

So it comes down to determining what gossip is. And as leaders - women who hold vast amounts of information, stories, experience, and even "dirt" - we need to understand the difference between what constitutes gossip and what may be a legit form of connecting or sharing pertinent information (e.g., sharing a work-related issue with a boss or a true concern with a friend). I've heard one good way of determining gossip is to ask yourself if you're either a part of the problem or the solution. If you are neither, shut your ears and your mouth. Does that always work? I can also use Scripture here: if it separates people, it's gossip. I can think of situations where as a leader, I've needed to walk that thin rope carefully - and the distinction of what is gossip and what is pertinent gets murky. So I ask you, gifted women, what your thoughts and experiences as to how we should discern and then handle gossip?

September25, 2007 at 7:54 AM

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