Have you seen the latest episode of Gossip Girl? Read National Enquirer lately? How about People Magazine? Decrying gossip may seem quaint today, but with over one hundred magazines, TV shows and websites selling gossip, maybe we ought to remind ourselves of its dark side.
The more we value something the more specific we are in discussing it. For instance, to me, flour is just flour. However, if I’m shopping for my wife I am forced to differentiate between unbleached, bread, whole wheat and various other types.
The Bible contains many different words for ways to communicate because it places such high value on human connection. These words are not interchangeable; each has a specific meaning.
Leviticus 19:16 is commonly translated as:
Do not go about spreading slander among your people…
The Hebrew literally reads as:
Do not peddle gossip among your people…
Everyone agrees that slander is destructive and Biblical laws prohibiting it spawned similar civil laws. But gossip isn’t slander, right? Gossip is neutral and harmless, isn’t it?
Unlike any other language, Hebrew words magically intertwine with one another in a mystical dance. Every word in the Bible sends the student on a search for words that share the same roots and letters. Thus we get a clue to gossip’s essence by noting that the Hebrew for gossip, R-CH-L also means peddler. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that both these words also relate to R-G-L, the root word for spying.
In other words, gossiping, peddling, and spying are closely related ideas.
This helps us understand the reference to “peddle” in Leviticus 19:16. Peddlers convey goods from one person to another just as spies carry information. Similarly, gossips transmit details about one person to another. Peddlers provide economic benefit while spies can be either heroes or villains depending on your loyalties. Think Nathan Hale vs. Benedict Arnold.
What about the gossip? The prohibition in Leviticus seems to suggest it is always evil. But how do we define gossip? After all, if we never talk about other people, we might never discover someone needing our help. We could become utterly alienated from our families and communities.
What turns positive communication into negative gossip?
The Hebrew reveals the answer. While earning his living, a peddler does benefit his customer by selling him a desired product at a fair price. The patriotic spy engages in dangerous clandestine surveillance in order to help his country, but we have contempt for the amoral spy who engages in his activity for self enrichment.
So here is the foolproof monitoring system you need to install somewhere between your brain and mouth. Before speaking about another person ask yourself, “Who am I trying to benefit?” If your answer is “me,” you can be sure you are about to gossip.
Perhaps you want to fill an awkward silence, or perhaps you want to draw attention to yourself and appear important. Either way, if you breach a confidence or invade someone’s privacy, you are crossing the line from communication into gossip.
The gossiper always finds an audience but all recognize that he is not someone in whom to confide.. Gossiping reduces you in the eyes of others.
Gossip shatters relationships. The victim often discovers who spoke about him and then shuns that person forever.
Third, listening to gossip not only coats you with a slimy, subconscious sense of reduced worth but it forever changes your opinion of the person under discussion.
Decrying gossip is far from outdated. It is one of the most important self-improvement steps you can undertake. Banning gossip at your family’s dinner table and making your workplace a gossip-free-zone, will improve productivity in both arenas.
Speech is one of the most critical ways we reveal ourselves to others. Each of the five audio CDs in my Biblical Blueprint set – five hours worth of personal growth – gives you added insight into this vital area. Discover what the Ten Commandments have to do with the 4th of July; what candles teach us about wealth, and how changing your speech can change your love-life.
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