Let me begin with a brief story to illustrate today's lesson. Last year, Veronica and I took long time friends (let's call them the Baker's) who were visiting from California out to dinner at a local pub here in Oregon.
During our meal together, they asked us how our other mutual friends (let's call them the Anderson's) were doing. I replied, "You know... I don't think they're doing real well. It seems like they've isolated themselves and just have different values than us now." "Wow... we would have never guessed that...", replied the Bakers. "Ya... Me neither", I replied. We continued on discussing our thoughts and opinions of how this change in the Anderson's may have occurred and eventually, we moved on to other subjects of conversation.
Three weeks later, I received a phone call from John Anderson who said, "Hey Dale, we had dinner with the Baker's when they were in town a few weeks ago and they told us you and Veronica thought we had been walking in isolation and now have different values. What's going on man?"
Uh oh. I hope you're beginning to see where this article is going.
It was this incredibly embarrassing and difficult conversation that finally led me to realize this truth: Talking about others is almost always unprofitable.
Now, on the multiple choice exam, we would all check the box that reads, "Gossip is bad." But in reality, we live in a culture which seems to have turned gossip into our national pastime. Gossip happens every day in our cities, classrooms, and cell phone conversations all around us. Furthermore, gossip is a sanctioned industry in America. We have gossip magazines and television shows. Gossip columnists even make careers out of spreading half-truths and rumors.
One writer wrote, "If gossip was a food, our entire nation would be obese."
But my purpose today is not to rail on what the culture is doing wrong but for us to examine what men and women of integrity should be doing with opportunities of gossip in our own lives.
Going back to my story about the Baker's and Anderson's it's easy to become frustrated at the Baker's who had the heart to share my words with the Anderson's. However, that's merely a fruit of the root problem. The real issue was my inability to control my heart, my mind, and my mouth.
The Bible says, "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks."
My frustrations or concerns with the Anderson's had no business in the ears of the Baker's. I was too weak to present my concerns to them in person and instead, I simply advertised my own immaturity, lack of self-control, and divisive heart to our dinner guests.
Having said that, life has taught me that pain, humiliation, and embarrassment are our greatest teachers. It was that uncomfortable conversation and apology that ultimately led Veronica and I to make a vow.
That night Veronica and I vowed to avoid talking about others unless it was strictly to share something positive, passing along non-damaging information, or genuinely trying to build them up in the eyes of others.
Secondly, this moment taught us three quick lessons:
1. Loyalty Shouldn't Depend On Someone's Presence
The integrity of our relationships should never rely on the attendance of our counterparts. Conditional loyalty is the state of an immature heart. As leaders, we must speak carefully in hopes we might protect our relationships from the spreading on unverified statements or less-than-encouraging opinions.
2. Who Gossips With You Will Gossip Of You
Speaking poorly about someone else when they are not present to defend themselves says more about you than the person you're talking about. Ultimately, a person willing to share unfruitful words regarding others provides you a peek into how you should expect to be spoken of when you're not around.
3. Gossip Dies When It Hits The Ears Of The Wise
That day, the Baker's missed a moment of maturity. But that experience taught me the three appropriate responses from the recipent of gossip:
- Quickly move the conversation to another topic.
- If it's about a conflict, encourage them to share their thoughts with the party involved and request to be left out of the details.
- Have the self-control to forget what was said
Gossip is a deep well issue. A topic fit for volumes of books, theories, and instruction. But regardless if your foot lands in the deep end or the shallow waters, you're partaking in the act of destroying people's relationships, reputations, and trust.
As leaders and business owners, I encourage you to vaccinate yourself with the truth about gossip. I challenge you to avoid justifying your reasons and allowing yourself to perpetuate this cycle of brokenness in our culture.
Life-giving speech and gossip are the respective languages of right and wrong. Our mouths play a very important role in the pursuit of mutual edification and peace. Our words should be carefully chosen and designed to build up, not to destroy.
What have you learned about gossip? Any hard lessons? Tell me about them in the comments below.
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