Gossip can be very destructive to the building of community in a church and school. Gossip is an exercise of power that is used to leverage influence and change. Sometimes gossip hints at something that is true, and it can make people aware of something, but will make it hard to constructively handle the truth that is alluded to in the gossip. Gossip is a form of attack.
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28).
Gossip seeks growth of audience. Sharing news and using it to harm another person has more appeal in the presence of others. If someone starts to tell you something about another person, it is appropriate to respond, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about this person when they’re not here to defend themselves.”
If you find you are an object of gossip, you may want to set the record straight. You don’t need to defend yourself to everyone. Constantly talking about the gossip pours gasoline on discord. Gossip without fuel eventually dies out. If you want to confront the person spreading the gossip, Robert Willer, a researcher at Stanford University, suggests, “Approach the person in a sympathetic, non-confrontational way, so that you can win their sympathies.” Offering perspective can help.
It is possible to break the gossip chain, and you will gain the trust of other people, as someone who won’t spread rumors. Psychology Today, in the article “8 Things to Do If You’re the Target of Hurtful Gossip,” points that “we have a strong negativity bias: almost all of us pay more attention to negative information than we do positive information.” Negative emotions grow quickly. Being gossiped about is very painful.
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Proverbs 11:13).
Dangers of gossip in a church or school
- Erosion of trust
- Builds up a response of suspicion between insiders and outsiders
- Increase of anxiety among people as rumors circulate without clear information as to what is and isn’t fact
- Divisiveness as people take sides
- Hurt feelings
- Damaged reputations
- Attrition due to people leaving because of growing distrust
The line between banter that shares stories of what people are doing and conversations that lead to a breakdown in community is crossed when the conversation is used to tear down another person.
Be careful what you choose to tell people who practice in gossip, because it is more likely they will gossip about you.