Slander – the desire for self-enhancement, often driven by the deeper desire to deflect attention from our own failings.
John Piper expressed it beautifully when he said, “The worse light we can put another in by slander, the less our own darkness shows.”
Slander has an agenda. When we speak poorly or untruthfully about another person, the spotlight is deflected off us and we are able to sit back, unexamined, in our own darkness.
When I think of slander, I think of gossip and I thought about gossip for three months recently, as I prepared for a Toastmasters speech competition. I choose gossip as my speech topic because I wanted to respectively challenge people to think about this destructive tendency within all of us – slanderous words come out of all our mouths very easily. Girls’s night out often morphs into a time of speaking negatively about others and chatter in the men’s locker room is seldom uplifting. Quiet discussions around the water cooler involve selected employees, leaving others out and in the ten years of teaching at a Christian high school, I overheard conversations that would make anyone cringe.
Gossip is an epidemic – fully accepted in most circles of life but dishonoring to God and heart wrenching to the victims.
Here is my speech on gossip that I made years ago. Some of you might remember The Gossip Song because I wrote about it in a 2011 post but most of this speech expresses new ideas.
A young girl’s predicament – a moment of profound clarity.
My daughter was in Grade 1 at the time and she was devastated. As soon as she heard that school bell ring, she popped out of her chair, bolted out of the classroom and ran home as quickly as her little legs could carry her. She burst into the house, tears streaming down her face.
“Mom, it was terrible. At recess, I heard Christine Pandos tell EVERYBODY that my ears are so big that I can hear bugs talking to each other. How come I have such big ears?
NOT the time to be talking about family genetics ( as I reached for my ears) but as I scooped her into my arms to console her, I remember thinking, ” Wow…it’s starting already.”
Gossip. Caustic, biting words that crush the spirit.
Well, I knew exactly what would cheer up my daughter – homemade chocolate chip cookies!
But Dawne needed more. She needed a song.
Mr. Contest Chair, ladies and gentlemen,
There’s a powerful verse in the Bible that says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Think about that.
What if we all made the effort to only speak words that would build others up?
Life would radically change. People would have greater personal confidence and that would result in more authentic relationships, stronger families, unified communities and a world that would be so much more loving.
But that’s not reality is it?
As my daughter mixed the cookie dough that day, I came up with and quickly taught her a song. I wanted to empower her. I wanted to build her up. We sang, “The Gossip Song.”
NO N – O – G – O – S – S – I – P
When you gossip, it’s bad for both you and me.
Even if you’re angry or feeling awfully blue
Before the words come out of your mouth, think it through and ask…
“Would you say the same thing if the person was here?
If the person you were talking about was standing right near.
Assume the best of others – be careful what you say
Let’s build up and encourage everybody everyday.
It was a mighty good moment and to this day, my 34 year old daughter remembers every word of that song and every good feeling she experienced when she marched back to school that day, armored with truth and wanting to love others.
Oscar Wilde once said, “A good friend stabs you in the front.” I love that picture – loving friendships can bear the impact of face-to-face truth.
But let’s be honest – when we don’t connect, we connive. It is so easy to get sucked into the downward spiral of negative talk.
Have you ever seen anyone lean over to a friend and quietly whisper, “Let me tell you all the things that I LIKE about her.” No – that doesn’t happen. Gossip is always negative.
And for all you men out there, studies have shown that although it might sound different, you are as guilty of gossip as we are.
Imagine if I were to empty a big bag of feathers into the wind. A few minutes later, I asked you, “Can you go gather all those feathers and put them back in the bag?” You wouldn’t be able to – the wind would have taken the feathers in all sorts of directions. THAT’S the same thing with gossip – once those hurtful words are out, the damage is done.
Our culture has zero tolerance for bullying but we readily accept gossip. There are men and women who make their living gossiping and do you know what they’re so successful? Because people of all ages delight in feeding the beast. Notes are passed around the elementary classroom, high school students are cyper-gossiping and in the work place, adults are huddled together in a clique, whispering about a co-worker.
The problem is when people don’t have the emotional maturity to deal with the fallout of gossip, the results can be devastating…even deadly. We’ve all heard recent stories about young people who have taken their own lives because they can’t handle the pressure of malicious talk or betrayed trust.
There is a moment when each of us makes the choice – am I about to speak words that will empower or destroy?
My daughter came home from school that afternoon 30 years ago, with a big smile, arms up in the air, victoriously declaring, “Mom, Gossip is cruel but kindness is cool.” YES!! She got it!
May I encourage you to grab onto that truth? When it comes to gossip, let’s take the high road. It is the road less travelled but there are also less potholes.
Socrates had it right when he said, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”
MAKE A MOMENT TO MUSE
- What do you think of the gossip song?
- Why do you think people are so tempted and follow through with gossip?
- Do you tend to use your words to empower or destroy?