Gossiping is common, and it's also a big deal. What's the best way to change this destructive habit?
Just one verse each day.
“I just need to vent, and I’m saying good things about her, too.”
“I don’t feel that prick of my conscience, so I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.”
“I’m only venting to one person, and surely it will stay between us … and this person knows the other person so It’s not like I’m saying anything new.”
Those are all excuses I’ve made before; gossip is sneaky! I have often thought to myself, “Oh I don’t really have a problem with gossip,” only to realize that there’s still that one person or one situation where I enjoy sharing things I would never say to that person’s face.
Gossip is a big deal. It’s against the Eighth Commandment. Jesus says it’s not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth (Matthew 15:11). A habit of gossip trains us to think badly about others, which in turn makes it harder for us to be charitable.
Passively participating in gossip (just listening and going along with what everyone is saying) is destructive as well. If you are in denial that gossip is a problem in your life, or you’re just not sure if you gossip or not, here are a few ways to recognize this sneaky and destructive habit.
Have you ever been hurt by overhearing something other people have said about you? If that happens to you, it’s a great time to check yourself and consider whether you do this to other people.
Is there a certain friend or coworker you are comfortable with and find that you talk a lot about other people when you get together? Reflect back on those conversations and ask yourself if you are sharing too much, and what you are sharing. Consider also if there are certain environments in your life where conversations easily turn to gossip—maybe the break room at work, maybe a family function, or a girls’ or guys’ night out.
Have you ever met someone through mutual friends and discovered that you already had a negative opinion about him because your friends shared negative things about him previously? This might mean that you don’t have a habit of avoiding gossip or trying to change the subject. And it might just mean that you participate as well.
If you have kids, have you ever overheard them saying negative things about other adults, and realize that they are just parroting you? Ouch, that one hurts.
Do you have a habit of speaking negatively about people you don’t know personally (celebrities, online personalities, etc.)? It may seem like you are just sharing public negative information, but this is dangerous because you don’t know these people and have no context for their actions and writings.
So now … how to get out of the gossip rut?
First, reframe how you talk about other people.
Cut out gossip cold turkey. In general, if what you’re saying about someone who is absent you wouldn’t be comfortable saying to her face, then don’t say it. And if you wouldn’t want someone sharing the information you’re sharing about your own life, then also just don’t say it. This is easier said than done, but you have to start.
Second, reframe the way you think about other people.
This will help you get to the root of the gossip problem. There is a helpful antidote St. Therese of Liseux introduced me to in her autobiography Story of a Soul: She tells a story from her life when a fellow sister asked for volunteers to help with a project, and Therese deliberately took her time volunteering so that another sister could beat her to help. Therese was doing this out of love for the other sister, but people noticed Therese’s delay and accused her of laziness because she didn’t get up right away to help. St. Therese realized then that if people could see her well-intentioned and virtuous action as a vice, then how many times might she have misjudged others’ actions as faults when they were really good deeds? The less we judge the actions of other people, or at least the less we attribute ill will and defects to other people, the less we have to gossip about in the first place.
St. Therese, pray for us!