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October 16, 2007

5

Harmless gossip? Never

by quaesitor

Amongst all the big news items like LibDem resignations and minor collisions on the runways of Heathrow, i spotted a little news item which merely goes to confirm what we’ve always known: mud sticks. And it sticks even if that mud doesn’t actually exist. It seems some scientists in Germany & Austria have been conducting experiments about how gossip and reputations are formed in human collaboration.

It reminds me of an old talk illustration.

A minister had been the victim of some malicious gossip by a young man in his congregation. When the truth came out, the minister asked the man to meet him with a copy of the day’s newspaper. He said that he forgave him and that they could be reconciled. But first he wanted him to understand what he had done. First he was to tear up that day’s newspaper into tiny little shreds and place them in a box. Then they climbed the church tower. When they got to the top, he instructed the gossip to empty the box over the side. And the thousands of shreds were carried off in a million directions.

‘Now – i want you to go and retrieve each piece.’

‘I can’t do that – they’ve gone everywhere.’

‘Exactly. Now you begin to see the damage you’ve done.’

Yet again, the Bible was right all along. The book of Proverbs has so much to say on the matter:

  • A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. (Proverbs 11:13)
  • A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)
  • The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. (Proverbs 18:8)
  • A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. (Proverbs 20:19)
  • Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. (Proverbs 26:20)

Who says the Bible isn’t relevant?

 

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oct 16 2007

    Great illustration! And yes, the Bible is always relevent. Those who say it isn’t are those who find it inconvenient to believe.

    Reply
  2. drfrank
    Oct 20 2007

    Great story, but I have a question: at what point does someone talking talk ‘too much’? cf. Proverbs 20.19 quote.

    Reply
  3. Oct 20 2007

    You’re absolutely right in picking up on that – but i think one of the ways that the Book of Proverbs works is precisely in leaving it to the discretion of the moment. For at one point in Proverbs 26, you get these words:
    4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you will be like him yourself.
    5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes.
    You could argue that they are completely contradictory, despite coming consecutively. But surely, it’s simply a matter of appealing for wisdom in how you handle someone. One could say the same is true therefore for the ‘one who talks too much’ – presumably in context we are being encouraged to avoid sharing secrets with someone who is unreliable at keeping confidences. But common sense and discretion are the key. Does that help?

    Reply
  4. drfrank
    Oct 20 2007

    Thanks. I like the Proverbs 26 quotes very much. Re. 20.19 – I agree, sharing confidences with those who aren’t good at keeping them so is clearly foolish. Talking ‘too much’ probably refers to someone who talks about everything, everybody, and every thing that everybody else has said to him (or her)!

    Just to add a point, though: problems can arise because others might only reveal themselves to be unreliable retrospectively; it’s not that they talk too much, but too little. Malicious rumour – by its nature underground and, unlike in the above story, without clear origins – tends to thrive because, I’d suggest, the quality of communication with its subject (/victim) is not as good as it was for the minister. So there is little opportunity to check things out, set things straight and clear things up until it is too late – i.e. before its subject has suffered consequences.

    Any Proverbs quotes on the more ambiguous phenomenon of rumour-mongering?

    Reply
  5. Marion
    Oct 22 2007

    This is a response to Dr. Frank – when becomes talking too much talk? I guess when ministers step into the pulpit. Apart from this, Solomon suggested that talking becomes too much and leads to sin and foolishness once continous self-centred babbling prevents people from listening to other people (Prov.10:8) and to the facts (18:13), and from seeking understanding (18:2); once it focusses solely on the faults of another person (17:9); and once it lacks integrety (10:9), common sense (10:21), honesty (11:3), and, most importantly, love and respect towards God and neighbour (everywhere).
    This of course, does not mean that Solomon discourages people to bottle up things, or that he disregards communication:
    “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (16:24);
    “A person’s word can be life-giving water” (18:4)
    And, according to King Lemuel, there can never be too much talking if one speaks up for justice on behalf of those who have no voice: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are parishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (31:8f).
    Solomon and Lemuel knew about the life-giving as well as about the life-negating power of words. They tell us that we can’t escape responsibility for the consequences of what we say – or fail to say (a danger to which Dr Frank has rightly pointed). They collect common wisdom to help others dealing with the enormous power of words, entrusting it to their discretion, knowing that ultimately only reliance on God – the creative Logos – can help us through the abyss opened up by human talk (- or by inpropriate silence): “Those who love to talk will experience the consequences, for the tongue can kill or nourish life” (18:21).

    Reply

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