What are we to do when someone comes to us and starts to share bad things about a person who is not there with you? How can we, as the listener, make sure the 3rd warning light of gossip doesn’t get turned on?
Gossip has three warning lights. (1) A light goes off when we are talking BEHIND someone’s back. They are not present to tell their side of the story. (2) A second light is triggered when we are saying BAD things behind someone’s back. It is not gossip if we are saying good things that enhance the reputation of another person. Only if we are tearing them down could it qualify as gossip. (3) The third alarm goes off, declaring loudly that we are now gossiping, when we are talking to a third-party for NO GOOD reason. Good reason would be to seek help to go talk with the other person whom we know bad things about. It is not a good reason to just “vent” our feelings.
It has been said, “Gossipers should be hung. One by the ear and one by tongue.” In order to not become a gossip by our ear, we must keep the 3rd light off. To do this, we must graciously interrupt the person sharing with us. We must do this as soon as we realize the first two warning lights have gone off. Before things go any further, we must ask them why they are telling us these bad things behind the other person’s back.
“I know you want very much to share this with me. But before we go too far, I want to make sure for both of our sakes that the 3rd warning light of gossip doesn’t get flipped on. I need to ask you why you want to tell me these things. Are you asking me to help you know how to go and talk directly to this other person? Are you asking me to go with you to care-front them? If not, don’t you think it best that we cut off this topic before we slip into gossip?”
We don’t want to become a “whisperer” as described in the Proverbs:
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. (16:28)
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. (18:8)
May the Holy Spirit help us to be sensitive to His nudges, His warning lights, as He helps us avoid the friendship ruining, community destroying plague of gossip.