Few experiences are more maddening than discovering that someone’s been gossiping about you. But if we’re so disturbed when we discover that people (especially friends) are speaking negatively about us, why do we so freely speak disparagingly about others? I mentioned in the last post that (1) gossip is often our misguided attempt at justice and that (2) gossip is often an expression of our cowardice. Here are four more reasons why gossip saturates our communities and fills our conversations.
3. Gossip appeals to our comparative tendencies. Gossip is appealing partially because we love to look back down the ladder at those who are (we think) below us. We feel righteous when we see another person condemned. We feel affirmed when we see someone else denied. We feel accepted when we see someone else rejected. We especially like to hear that larger-than-life characters have feet of clay, which is why gossip often centers on famous figures. Gossip appeals to our desire to separate ourselves from the pack, and to turn attention away from our own sins and failures by focusing attention on others.
4. Gossip appeals to our fear of man. Gossip is the coward’s way of condemning sin. But additionally, listening to gossip is a way of affirming the person who’s sharing it. Gossip is a team sport — it can’t happen alone — so peer pressure is always a factor. It can be difficult to turn away from gossip in the moment because (a) we’re being invited into a special club and (b) we don’t want to reject the person who’s just accepted us. Nonetheless, we must reject gossip.
5. Gossip appeals to our desire to be seen as wise and discerning. When someone begins talking about someone in a way that we can affirm from our own experience, the temptation is to affirm what’s being said and to share in the gossip because we don’t want to be seen as undiscerning. “Don’t you see that in her?” “Haven’t you experienced that side of him?” “I mean, everyone knows that about her.” Not jumping on the bandwagon can make you appear naive. So we often sacrifice the reputations of others in order to save ourselves — the exact antithesis of the gospel paradigm.
6. Gossip appeals to our lust for power. Secrets are power. We all know this from childhood. When you hold a secret, those who aren’t in the know are at your mercy. We all love to be in the know. We feel like we belong, like we’re on the inside, like we’re wearing the badge and know the password and have the access. Discretely distributing the poisonous candy of gossip is a great way to establish yourself as a beneficient insider whose friendship is well worth pursuing if only for the intel. But once again, this kind of clubby, cliquish, secretive mentality runs counter to the welcoming current of the gospel where we invite others freely into our lives without dangling secrets that should remain concealed and confidential.