What is the difference between venting and gossiping? One can be good and healthy and if done right, can diffuse the tension in a situation. The other can be hurtful and toxic and actually inflame a situation. We know this in life, but the bible tells us in no uncertain terms as well. Bear with me.
Most people would recognise that gossiping is bad. But lets pick this apart because there are two types of gossip – there’s passing on rumours about people or there’s airing grievances about people.
Passing on rumours is talking about people behind their backs. It can betray confidences if it was a secret told to you, or it can just be passing on (and embellishing) a rumour about someone – something that might not even be true. It can destroy people.
Airing grievances is putting our spin on people and events. It builds the tension by ascribing motive and emotion to others. It builds the story. It can be about controlling the narrative. It’s about being validated and feeling right. It can spread like a poison and infect others.
And yet, we all seem to be drawn to do it. Gossip has a special pull. It’s exciting. It’s dramatic. It’s validating. It makes special secret bonds. It makes us feel like we’re “in” or even at the centre of things.
Venting can be good. Some of us can process things internally and so don’t need this. But some of us, in the face of hurts or frustrations or disappointments, need to air them to take the sting out. Without airing them, they can grow resentment within us. We can mull and stew and replay and rehearse in our minds those events. Which means we feel those hurts and disappointments over and over and over again. And that’s what grows a bitter root in your heart.
But where does venting, which can be healthy and useful, tip over into gossip?
The book of James pulls no punches and particularly in this area. “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26. Woah.
OK. Here’s what we can do:
1. Recognise that we like to gossip. Just know that as human beings, its something we are drawn to. It’s like admitting the problem is the first step to dealing with it.
2. If you have interactions with people who want to gossip to you or with you, its alright to say that you’re not comfortable to talk about that. Gossip only has power if you give it an open door – shut the door.
3. Be a trustworthy person. If you are told something in confidence, keep it. It’s an exercise in self-control, just like holding in the wee’s when we need to go to the loo. If you feel the need to do a wee, hold it til you get to the bathroom. If you feel the need to share a confidence, hold it in. We are better at self-control than you think. “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13
4. Put boundaries around your venting. Learn to recognise what is a legitimate airing with the specific purpose of diffusing the hurt and what is you starting to build and inflame the story. If you are the one listening to the venting, its OK for you to put those boundaries up as well – you can be a wise venter and you can be a wise vent-ee. You can give someone air time but gently pull them back in when they are going into gossip territory.
5. Agree with your wise friends to mutually self-check. If you are talking about shared hurts, you can stop and ask “Are we gossiping now?” And if you think you are, or in danger of it, change the subject.
6. When you vent, choose who you vent to wisely. Choose someone who will deal with you lovingly but wisely – don’t deliberately choose someone who will just validate you. We want someone who can help us diffuse the hurt and give us wise advice.
7. Don’t be a poison. None of us mean to be. But we can be. If we gossip rather than vent, we can infect other people with our negative emotions, and we can start feeding off people’s reactions. This is difficult but something we need to be aware of. “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20
8. Recognise that venting has to go somewhere. Once the hurt is aired, it has to be done. A wise friend can help by asking “So what happens now?” Or can give good advice about letting go and looking at the situation with grace and forgiveness. Bearing in mind that forgiveness is not about letting other people off, but it is about freeing yourself from the resentment and bitterness and hurt.
9. Work towards the point of letting it go. At lot of the time, gossip is about validation of our rightness. It’s about controlling the narrative over the other person. That is not an attitude that is filled with grace or love and the only outcome is more hurt for more people. It’s not easy and it doesn’t necessarily happen over night, but work towards letting go. Work towards having grace. Choose what to care about. This is hard. But the bible gives such great guidance. The Psalms show us that God is aware of and understands every fear and negative emotion we have. But in these Psalms, we also see God upholding his people. We don’t get our validation from our friends agreeing with us. We get it from God. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” Psalm 43:5
10. Remember what its for – removing gossip from your life is about creating a cleaner set of thought patterns and developing a more harmonious way of living. Keep working on it. We’re all a work in progress. If you’re someone who loves the drama of a bit of gossip, or know that you find yourself drawn into gossip when someone else is doing it, start watching out for it, and seek help from God and the bible. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3