Jane, the church gossip and self appointed monitor of the Church’s morals, kept sticking her nose into other people’s business. Several members did not approve of her extra curricular activities, but feared enough to maintain their silence. She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told George and several others that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing.
George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He did not explain, defend or deny. Later that evening, George quietly parked his car just inside Jane’s driveway… walked home…. and left it there all night. Don’t you just love old George!
I picked this story from our weekly Church bulletin. Father always likes to put a story or a quote on the last page that is always witty and instructive.
We’ve created a culture where gossip is not only accepted but even glorified. There are Gossip columns in many magazines and whole internet sites dedicated just to gossip – about sports players, models, politicians, actors…
Sometimes gossip is so veiled that we do not even notice it. It even masquerades itself as ‘concern’ for others. Some people will believe anything if it is whispered to them.
However I learnt one simple rule. Whenever I hear of “secret information” being circulated, whenever persons start “talking about others” in less than a favorable way… I understand that the trapdoor for gossip is wide open! The root of gossip is always negativity and slander. “Gossip is the most deadly microbe. It has neither legs nor wings. It is composed entirely of tales, and most of them have stings.”
You probably remember the old sayings: “If you can’t say something good about others, don’t say anything at all.” And “If you do not say it, they cannot repeat it!” Wise advice if you wish to avoid evil.
Yiddish folklore offers us this story. One gossip monger told so many malicious lies about his local Rabbi that he was overcome by remorse. “How can I make amends?” he inquired. The Rabbi sighed, “Take two pillows, go to the public square and there cut the pillows open. Wave them in the air. Then come back.”
The man quickly went home, got two pillows, hastened to the square, cut the pillows open, waved them in the air and hastened back to the rabbi’s chambers. “I did just what you said, Rabbi!” “Good.” The rabbi smiled.
“Now, to realize how much harm is done by gossip, go back to the square…” “And?” “Collect all your feathers.”
Oh, the tongue! They say that the average person spends at least one fifth of one’s life talking. Ordinarily, in a single day enough words are used to fill a 50-page book. In one year’s time the average person’s words would fill 132 books, each containing 400 pages! That is a lot of talking!
The power of the tongue cannot be overestimated. James puts it very vividly, “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
We can hurt others with our words. You get up in the morning, somewhat groggy. You make some comment on the ‘stupidity’ of your wife because you cracked your toe against the chair she left in the middle of the room. In her defense, she counters your attack with a barrage of her own insults. The tone for the morning is set. You both stomp off to neutral corners to lick your wounds. The damage is done.
Or maybe your daughter loves to sing or dance, yet all you do is criticize her vocal range or the grace of her kicks. Your constant verbal assault will stifle her voice and cripple her spirit.
Thankfully, there is a solution. We may make ours the prayer of the Psalmist, “Lord set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” And perhaps add, “Grant me also a vocabulary of kindness”… to comfort, strengthen, encourage and mend any wounds that I may have already inflicted.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.