But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
When you find out that people have been gossiping about you, you understandably feel violated and wronged. But why is gossip so bad?
First of all, what is gossip?
The word “gossip” comes from “God + sibb”—because only people close to you, like god-siblings, know enough about all your faults to really speak ill of you. Familiarity breeds contempt, and it is a challenge to remain charitable to those closest to us, because we all have weaknesses and traits that others may find trying.
Gossip is corrosive; it destroys the life of charity in the soul. It is a poison that seeps into our hearts and turns us against one another. Even if what is said is true, it can amount to the sin of detraction. One must first consider whether it is necessary to divulge such information (for instance, in order to protect others from destructive behavior); after all, people do change their ways, and we make it harder for them to change if everyone around them expects them to keep misbehaving. Also, everyone has strengths as well as weaknesses, and apparent weaknesses can be wonderful strengths in another context. And you never know what hurts or pressures someone may be suffering in order to act in a despicable manner.
At the same time, one must distinguish between gossip and valid complaints, especially in serious cases. For instance, when I was traumatized by verbal abuse and harassment at all hours of the day and night by severely troubled acquaintances (resulting in nightmares and destroying my ability to pray), I turned to various friends for support, and made official complaints in hope of remedying the deteriorating situation. One friend was comforting at first, and later lashed back, telling me to get over it and not broadcast it to the whole world. He was under extreme stress himself; moreover, one tries to think the best of one’s peers, and often there is a temptation to remain in denial about flagrant abuses. However, as it is necessary to bring a suppurating wound to a doctor to be cleaned and dressed, so it is necessary to speak out about toxic patterns of dysfunction within our communities and have them addressed in a timely and professional manner before things spiral out of hand. Otherwise, things will blow up in the end and cause far greater scandal and damage than if they had been attended to in the beginning.
Dysfunction and disorder have always been part of our world since the Fall. There is no need to be surprised or overly troubled by it. What falls to us is to reorder the chaos within ourselves and society as best we can, in accordance with right reason, justice, and mercy. Thus will God’s Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as in Heaven.
Sometimes, people are hesitant to be whistle-blowers because they know the effect of bringing dark things to light. There will be pain and dismay as others behold the full ugliness of sin and how it has disfigured us and our fellows. But we are called to look always to God’s mercy, which transfigures the lowliest and most sinful humans into the sons and daughters of God.
This, then, is how to address the sin of gossip—to always remember your core identity and the identity of those you speak of—and to—as children of God. Putting others down may give you a dark joy and make you feel superior for an instant, but it will destroy you in the end. Likewise, always focusing on the faults of others will make you feel terrible about the state of the world. We can choose to delight instead in the miracle of their being, and to maintain a safe distance if we cannot help them with their issues, commending them to God. In the end, we are not God, Who alone knows the hearts of men, and Who alone can heal their wounds and free them to walk in His joy and peace, world without end.
Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.
Image: Artemisia Gentileschi, Susanna and the Elders / PD-US