Friendly Fire: Many Faces of Gossip

June 17, 2008

A reader asked me why I hadn’t dealt with gossip yet in this series on “Friendly Fire”. I just assumed everyone would know that gossip is on the ‘verboten’ list and we could deal with subtler nuances of how we hurt each other. But it occurs to me that gossip itself can have 31 flavors and some of those are just too yummy to pass by sometimes. For the record, all gossip is damaging to relationships and working functions. There are no exceptions. But gossip likes to play dress-up and here is what it looks like when it doesn’t wear the ugly badge.

  1. Personal Warnings: We let people know they are in trouble, being lied to or are in any way going to be used by others because we care about them. But sometimes we use that warning as an opportunity to take a shot at someone else as well. “Do you know what so-and-so is saying about you?” If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan as I am , you’ll remember that this was Grima Wormtongue’s favorite ruse: hurt two people with one seemingly innocent warning. It can also sound like “I wouldn’t hang around with that guy if I were you. He has hurt the last two women he dated. In fact, he still owes one of them money. Let me tell you about it.” If you could give the same warning without any details and allow Holy Spirit to use your more minimalist approach, then it might fly.
  2. Prayer Requests: This one is so obvious I will just take two sentences to describe it. We don’t want to sound gossipy so we share a “concern we have” about the type of people Jeanette is hanging around with. If you can share the prayer request without giving any details then it is allowable – otherwise it goes into Gehenna.
  3. Caveats Issued: Any time we have to issue a caveat before talking about another person, it is probably gossip. As in “I don’t want to be critical, but…” or “I’m sure the whole world knows this…” or “I’m not trying to be petty, but…”. In answer to these three caveats: yes you do, no they don’t, yes you are.
  4. Probing Gossip: This happens when you ask a question when your real intent is to open a discussion about a third person using the person you are talking to as the “instigator”. This would sound like “What do you think of the way Jason talked to Brian yesterday?” You can fill in the thousand other ways this is approached. A legitimate question would be one where you don’t already have the next thing you want to say planned out. If you are fishing for a conversation about a person that you would prefer not to be held accountable for, this is probably your category.
  5. Public Permission: I hate to admit this: But this is the one I commit way too regularly. I will start by saying, “Now, I’m not speaking out of school because they have shared this with the whole world…” and then go on to share my opinion of them, their actions or their life situation. Is this ever allowed? I think that if the person you are speaking about would encourage the discussion they helped to start by publicly proclaiming something, then yes, go ahead. For instance, there is nothing wrong in an AA meeting by talking about how a person kicked alcohol, or is struggling at that time if the purpose of your meeting together is to discover ways not to struggle with alcohol.

Can you think of other ways that gossip can slip into the tea party disguised as a righteous guest?



  1. How about the times when we critique the pastor’s sermon in the guise of “doctrinal integrity”? It puts a new light on the expression “we’re having the pastor for dinner.”

  2. I think there are times when gossip can sneak in, “in the name of the child.” As parents I think we do this without even realizng it. I have been the perpatrator and I am sure the vicitim. In waiting for my daughter before and after school, parents would talk. I noticed that there were times that the talk time turned into our thoughts on how another parent parents. This was easy at times for me to fall into, because I might have agreed with what was being said. I noticed this pattern, especially with one other parent. One day she went to say something about another parent and my response to her was, “I really don’t know her so I am not sure about that”. And the door was closed. Such a good feeling. Much better then if I would have just, “uh-huh’d” the whole time and given her permission to continue to slander the other parent.
    I think we can also gossip or talk bad about another by saying something that may come across as a compliment at first. Such as, “Did you see so and so’s new car/house/haircut/etc?” This can be said in hope that other person will say something negative about it or possibly even pay us a compliment at the expense of another.
    This was a good blog Mike. I pride myself on not being a judgemental Christain. Mainly because when my faith has grown the most is when those around me have loved me and not judged. I believe that this is one of the greatest ways to show Christ to the world. I also believe that gossip in its many forms is perhaps the greatest way we can judge. It can be disguised so we need to all be careful, especailly those wanting to really show the love of Christ.
    Did I just write a blog to your blog?!?!?!

  3. Court:

    You are so right when you say that these gossip moments can be disguised as so many different things. Just when we think we are in the clear, we commit “Gossipry” and lose the high moral ground. This is one of those “be ever vigilant” moments.

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