Viscous, Vindictive Gossip
I received a call from a friend recently. She was rather upset and needed to vent. She was dining with a group of work associates when she learned that another individual was spreading viscous gossip about her. She had every right to be upset. The story that this other person was spreading was untrue. How do I know that the gossip was untrue? Both my husband and I were there and we were an integral part of this particular situation. The offending gossiper was also there, but was not directly involved, to be more precise, the gossiper was not there for the telephone, and subsequent in-person, conversations. The gossiper took untrue information fed to them from yet another individual, who was also on site, and decided that they needed to spread the information around. Therefore, because my husband and I were directly involved in this particular situation, I feel relatively sure that the said offender is spreading pretty much the same viscous gossip about us.
Their goal? Perhaps to feel superior. Perhaps to make themselves look better. Perhaps to make them feel wanted. Perhaps to make them feel good about themselves. Perhaps to feel like they are included, part of the group. Perhaps to feel like judge and jury. Perhaps to ingratiate, or align, themselves to those that they believe are in power, or to those they feel might further their career, at the expense of others. Or maybe this individual likes to “stir things up.” In the article entitled “Psychologists Explain How to Stop Gossip Immediately” Sharon Schweitzer, CEO and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide says: “Spreading a malicious rumor doesn’t just hurt the subject of the gossip, but it makes the person gossiping look bad in a rude and immature way.” The article continues: “Granted, the instinct to gossip can be tempting. This is especially true if there is some sort of individual vendetta against someone else.”*
Having worked in the corporate world for over 25 years, I’ve seen this situation play out time and time again. And, it’s repeating itself in my current work life. Workplace drama, attempting to position oneself at the expense of another, is draining to say the least. It mires all involved in the mud, and it makes me feel angry. I want nothing to do with these individuals. If I have to work with them, I try to do so with integrity. But, to be honest, these kinds of people have a way to get “under my skin.” It takes very hard work to not let the viscous gossiper get the better of me. Often I don’t succeed. And, it reminds me of the saying that I heard years ago: “When you’re up to your neck in alligators it’s hard to remember that your original objective is to drain the swamp.”
I too have people to whom I vent about situations that directly involve me. My tendency is to go first to those trusted sources, instead of taking the situation to God in prayer. Going to God in prayer, should always be my first reaction. Asking God for peace and guidance can bring us a greater understanding. The words of King David in Psalm 17 provide great counsel:
1 Hear me, Lord, my plea is just; listen to my cry. Hear my prayer—it does not rise from deceitful lips.
2 Let my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.
6 I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
7 Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings
9 from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.
13 Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down; with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
14 By your hand save me from such people, Lord, (NIV)
That’s not to say that I don’t see anything wrong with venting our grievances with other trusted people. I do so to get things “off of my chest,” and to seek guidance. But, again, turning to others should not be our first resort. I think being able to air our grievances is part of human nature. However, I am beginning to understand that it can indeed be tiring to others if every time we speak with them, we spend our time complaining about our interactions with others. To do so, can also be cause for our advisors to wonder whether we have an inability to get along with others.
So, what’s a person to do about gossip, especially the viscous, vindictive, sort? I’ve been pondering that question. When there are situations that occur to others and I have not been privy to the full details, that’s when I should, I must, remain silent. Otherwise, I too am spreading rumors, innuendos, potential viscous and damaging gossip. Furthermore, when I have someone confide a personal situation, grievance, hurtful circumstances, misunderstanding, or conflicts to me, I need to keep silent about those confidences. For, if I don’t then I am no better than the offending gossiper mentioned above.
I particularly like the advice: “When someone is trying to involve you in an offensive diatribe relating to someone else, the best thing to ask is: Why are you telling me this? Almost every time, the person initiating the gossip will be taken aback by the question. Almost every time, they will not have a good excuse as to why they are including you in the conversation. Based upon their response it’s much easier to simply state: “I don’t wish to be involved,” or “You should discuss this with him/her personally.”* I hope to remember this advice when confronted with gossip, however I still have the fear that when I say such things to others, I may come across as hostile, when my wish is to appear otherwise. And, that too is something that I need to take to God in prayer to enable me to answer others with soft words, rather than harsh sounding words.
“A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28 NIV)
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1, ESV)
Have you any words of wisdom about gossip?