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A Gossip Column

An anonymous sister writes:

How can we avoid gossipy situations without seeming unnecessarily “holier than thou”?

Kathy says:

What an interesting phenomenon gossip is. It’s from archaic words for “god” and “sibling” and actually takes its meaning from close or common intimate chatter. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that much of our “gossip” has this benign or even benevolent flavor of concerned intimacy as its initial motive. As in every area of our lives, however, we need to heed the spirit very carefully and honestly as any sort of intimate activity begins to unfold. We know that we have the capability of selfish or even unkind motives. It is part of the challenge of inhabiting a mortal body in a mortal world, even as we become more aware of the far greater and more enduring reality of our spiritual entity, which is eternal. That is why the word gossip today carries just as much malevolent context as the happy, intimate chatter it might also describe. Our strong oral traditions for exchanging family stories are just as important today as they were before our distant ancestors could read or write. I think it is an intrinsic part of our nature to get on the phone or around the dinner table and catch everybody up on the latest.

At what point does this need, which can be such a delight, turn on us?

Let’s return to our acid test of discipleship: “If ye have love one to another.” The unfortunate effect of spreading unkind, untrue, mischievous, or deliberately damaging stories about another whether that other is a child or spouse, a neighbor, a co-worker, a ward or branch member, or a political leader has been thoroughly documented elsewhere. Warnings against evil speaking appear frequently in scripture and were recently repeated in a general conference in the beautiful, lyrical phrase, Your Name Is Safe in Our Home.

Is there anyone out there who has not witnessed a cruel, habitual gossip at work? I think there is possibly “one in every crowd,” as the old clich� goes. These folks are often just heedless victims of a habit ingrained from countless repetitions, and almost always modeled by one or both parents. In nearly every case, they “know not what they do,” to quote our beloved Savior in one of His most magnificent and Godly gestures. It may feel as if the results of negative, critical, judgmental or vicious comments are only mischief. Malicious gossipers may see the pastime as merely recreational or even positive, as in “blowing off steam.” But it is common for the consequences to be far more harmful than they realize. We have all been taught that we need to self-manage very carefully against this precise behavior. If we are not building up, loving, helping, or serving, we are not following our Savior.

How can we turn the tide if we find ourselves in a situation that has become malicious? Again, I think it is “the real McCoy” that provides the best answers. Charity never faileth. If we can show love to and for the gossipers, all the listeners, and the target of the unsavory comments, we have a positive solution. For me, the exit has to be humorous, or the implication is always “holier than thou.” I think it is the only way to be fast enough and positive enough to avoid the very “appearance of evil.” I truly don’t want to be even in the same room. I don’t know any way to sit at the same table and not partake of this activity in some manner, actively or passively, willingly or not. On two occasions in my recent past, I jumped up immediately, before the first sentence was completed, and said “This is family chat; I’ll scram.” (I wasn’t related to anyone in the room, so it was airtight, at least for my purposes.)

The third experience was similar, but much more offensive to me. I joked that the room could be bugged for surveillance by management, and I couldn’t afford any more corrective feedback that month. I jumped up quickly as if alarmed at the prospect of corporate espionage and made a comedic exit. For fun, I closed the door behind me, then cracked it open and mugged a silly posture of elaborately eavesdropping through the opening. I was rewarded by a nice laugh, and later a friend stopped by to tell me quietly that everyone agreed the quick get-away was not only a successful comedy, but also a class act. Another of the participants also visited my cube to apologize for her offensive words. What a welcome opportunity for me to tell her my spin: I have given birth to six children, and have nothing but reverence for the divine engineering of female anatomy. I find human reproduction not only not offensive, but truly, amazingly wonderful. I was then privileged to assure this colleague that I held her in the same esteem as always and was very much moved and impressed by her sensitivity to my feelings and her courage in coming to me in person to apologize.

These were successes, dear sisters. I have certainly had failures as well, and I’m sure I have acres and acres of damage on my eternal record books for which to repent. A new year is a great time to find new optimism, courage (and encouragement) for repentance, and I welcome your input on this question.

Alison says:

Only a few weeks after moving to Florida in 1991, I was rather taken aback when I was approached separately by a couple of “helpful” sisters who felt it their duty to inform me about the particular failings and foibles of other not-so-pious sisters. Of course, this was not gossip. No! These helpers were merely kindly giving me advance warning about certain people my family and I might want to avoid. They were merely looking out for the new kids on the block. They were providing safe passage in the rough waters of South Florida church attendance.

In truth, as the years passed, I did find some of this unsolicited information to be genuine. There really was one sister who, for a number of years, accused every single one of her son’s Primary teachers of picking on her son and a similar sister who made claims about her daughter. There really was another sister who became “inactive” at regular intervals (approximately semi-annually) when another unwary ward member “offended” her. And there really were a handful of couples who refused to prepare for the future because it had been “revealed” to them (through an underground video being circulated in the stake) that the second coming was only minutes away.

So, you can see why I was glad to have had this important background information revealed up front. Not!

I found this advance notice problematic for three practical reasons:

  • I was deprived of the opportunity of getting to know these new ward sisters on my own, without a jaded impression of them.
  • I found it very difficult to keep the repeated information from affecting the way I treated, or at least thought, of them.
  • More often than not the information was highly inaccurate and unfairly filtered a fact that often took years to discover.

But even these problems aside, the moral and spiritual damage caused by gossip is well documented. Here is a tiny sampling:

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Matthew 12:36–37

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:16

Joseph Fielding Smith:

There should be no backbiting, evil speaking, gossip hurtful of our neighbors, neither iniquity in the Church.

Franklin D. Richards:

In being just, one will not condemn, find fault, or gossip, as there is no salvation in being critical of another.

Harvey L. Taylor:

Men [and women] of honor live above pettiness, gossip and small talk.

Milton R. Hunter:

Sometimes I gossip and judge others, and when I do it I act unrighteously before the Lord.

Spencer W, Kimball:

Speak no ill of others. Slander, backbiting, evil speaking, faultfinding are all destructive termites that destroy the home. Lies and gossip which harm reputations are scattered about by the four winds like the seeds of a ripe dandelion held aloft by a child. Neither the seeds nor the gossip can ever be gathered in. The degree and extent of the harm done by the gossip is inestimable.

Mark E. Petersen:

Gossip, to say the least, is hardly Christ-like.

David O. McKay:

Let us avoid evil speaking; let us avoid slander and gossip. Gossip bespeaks either a vacant mind or one that entertains jealousy or envy. Gossip, too, brings discord and thrives best in superficial minds, as fungi grows best on weakened plants, “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” but do not add to those burdens by gossiping about your neighbors or by spreading slander.

James E. Talmage:

I have no right to speak in condemnation of my brother, unless I do it in an official capacity, in the exercise of the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and then I should do it in love and with yearning for him.

Thorpe B. Isaacson:

It is a deplorable fact that the eye of the gossip and the slanderer sees not only no good in others, but sees evil where no evil exists.

Spencer W. Kimball:

Of course, no one sees himself in this category. It is always the other person who gossips, invents tales, slanders, and is double-tongued. But are not we all guilty to some degree and do not all of us need introspection, self-analysis and then repentance?

Bruce R. McConkie:

Gossip is unwholesome, serves no beneficial purpose, and should be shunned.

Joseph F. Smith:

Let it be remembered that nothing is quite so contemptible as idle gossip.

What is even sadder about this scenario is that, in spite of my strong distaste for gossip, I ended up sometimes contributing to it myself. Over a period of years friendships developed and habits were formed that bit-by-bit contributed to this awful behavior.

In analyzing how that could have happened, I realize that there are some relationships that are based almost entirely on gossip and there are some people who have very little to say unless it is about someone else. Perhaps in my case the two best remedies are preventative. First, I must avoid people with whom I have nothing in common but tales of others (at least until I can figure out a “safe” way to get out of such situations) and, second, I must be conversant on myriad topics none of which are other people’s business.

I remember well a Relief Society lesson over a decade ago where I first realized that gossip didn’t have to be constructed of lies! I had thought that if what I said was true (never mind that my personal version of “truth” might be just a teeny, weenie bit biased), then I was justified in shouting it from the rooftops. What a revelation to find that I was wrong! Gossip is idle talk or rumor about the personal or private affairs of others true or not.

Recently I moved to Utah and, like all moves, I look at this one as an exciting opportunity for a “fresh start” or sorts. I have determined that I will not speak unkindly or “idly” of anyone I meet or reacquaint myself with while here. The litmus test for me will be that I will not say anything behind a sister’s (or brother’s) back that I would be embarrassed (or unwilling) to say to her face.

Many of us actually believe (or make believe) that we are “discussing” someone in order to “help” him or her. This is almost always a big bunch of crock. Spreading personal information and negative comments about someone isn”t ever likely to be of help.

Some of the worst gossip is delivered in an extremely self-righteous manner: “Well, she was so inconsiderate, but I have forgiven her.” Yikes!

Other gossip is passed on with the pretense of some sort of compliment. “Oh, she has come such a long way since she had that morality problem a few years ago.” I can’t imagine that there is someone who cannot figure out how to give praise without dishing the dirt in the process.

There can also be a temptation to gossip about others under the guise of fulfilling our church stewardships. Those who visit teach, who give compassionate service, who serve in church leadership positions must realize the absolutely sacred nature of the personal information that our callings sometimes make us privy to. Even among counselors and others involved in helping and serving, we should use the utmost discretion when relaying information.

Perhaps one of the most insidious forms of gossip is from the alleged victim of a perceived wrong. When we are mistreated, how many people do we tell? Do we feel it our right to express our pain and garner support from the outside? Do we expect others to side with us in the battle against the offender? Do we couch our gossip in the form of a question? “Sister Jones didn’t show up at the ward party like she promised and left me without enough mashed potatoes. The bishop won’t release her from the activities committee. How can I make sure the next party won’t be ruined by something similar?” Do we hide our gossip under the banner of humility? “The stake president said that my son couldn’t pass the sacrament because his hair is bleached. I would never question his authority, but now my poor son doesn’t want to come to church at all. How can I help my son say active in the church?”

Certainly there are extreme situations where a professional a counselor or the police might need to be called in to resolve an issue. I am not suggesting that serious or severe abuse should be concealed or covered up. But we have been given a clear, scriptural pattern for general conflict resolution.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. Matthew 18:15

And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled. And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world. D&C 42:88–89

Of course, it is easier to tell our best friend how rude Sister Baxter was, than it is to try to resolve the situation with Sister Baxter herself. But I suggest that if the problem isn’t serious enough to motivate us to approach Sister Baxter in spite of the discomfort, then we ought to be charitable enough to motivate ourselves to shut our mouths around our best friends.

I make an exception to this rule for children. I believe they should be able to discuss troublesome situations with their parents (not their peers) so that they can receive guidance as to how to resolve these situations in the most civil, Christlike way possible. And hopefully as parents we will be mature enough not to turn the situation into gossip by spreading it around to others!

Gossip is truly harmful, to the person speaking, the person hearing, and the person being spoken about. It is harmful to the Spirit and to our ability to receive that Spirit. Often as women we feel that bonds of friendship are formed and strengthened when we share confidences one with another. But in the course of sharing, let us be sure that our confidences are truly our own, and not those belonging to another.

Jeannie says:

Gossip is a true chameleon. It can camouflage itself as “genuine concern” or begin with the sentence, “I need to talk to you about something.” Our antennae have to be very attuned to the Spirit in order to discern the difference between true concern and its counterfeit: idle gossip.

Setting is one of the most transparent ways in which gossip can be identified. It’s a “no- brainer” to figure out that negative, demeaning, or damaging remarks being tossed around in a group setting, qualify for the label “gossip.” Even if they begin under the guise of well-meant concern, group discussion of personal or delicate matters is rarely “well-meant.” In fact, it belies everything Christ teaches about loving our neighbor. When we love someone, we want to protect him or her from unrighteous scrutiny and would never indiscriminately share with an inappropriate third party.

Discerning gossip from true concern in a private setting can be a little more difficult. I always try to consider the source. If it’s someone passing a tidbit to me as a gesture of “closeness,” I bury it just about as fast as radioactive waste and try to gently set a boundary with that person (we’ll get into boundary-setting in a second). If it is a person whom I know and trust, my antennae relax a little but I still pay attention to vocabulary. True concern is proactive and never ends with the mere repeating of a rumor or incident. It takes the form of helping, healing, promoting honesty, or evoking change. It does not judge and is always directed toward the goal of eternal progression. It protects the right of a person to repent, change, or explain without the scrutinizing eyes of those not directly involved.

There’s the detective work. Now, how in the world do we behave in those sticky situations without appearing to be judgmental? Here are a few tools that may be useful.

Be the leaven. If, in a group or private setting, someone relates a “negative;” counter each comment with a “positive;” or use a Devil’s advocate approach. By taking a tactful, but opposite view, focus may be gently shifted to include another way of looking at the same situation. “Maybe s/he wasn’t aware that ?” or “Do you think that perhaps, s/he ?” A sensitive person will pick up on the re-focus immediately, back off, and shift the subject.

Set boundaries.
OK. Not everyone in this world is sensitive enough to pick up on the “gentle persuasion” approach. Time to put up a picket fence. Humor, as Kathy so wonderfully illustrates, is one of the most effective and non-confrontational ways to do this. “Whoa ?let’s look at world peace first then maybe we’ll be qualified to discuss this one.” Without offense, a “declaration of separation” has occurred. As with a picket fence, interaction can still take place but a boundary is now in place and, hopefully, understood.

Deflect. This is the buck-stopper. When all else has failed or when the gossip is so damaging that it must be silenced, this will bring results. However, it is the most direct of all. Just as a shield is held in place to repel potential damage, deflection turns the remark on its perpetrator. It calls for accountability and examination. “Have you discussed this privately with her/him?” or “Is this the right setting for such a discussion?” or perhaps, “I really don’t feel comfortable commenting on this.” The message sent that you will not be party to further discussion will not be misunderstood.

There are times when we have to do the unpopular thing. To some, it may appear “holier than thou.” That’s a risk we have to take when trying to stand in holy places. But let’s face it sisters, wouldn’t we all be grateful for a loyal friend who would take the risk if our reputation were on the line?

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:26 pm

    Julie from Nampa, Idaho, writes:

    I don’t believe there is an easy way to get out of such a situation. Gossip can snowball so quickly. When I find myself in such a situation, I try to add a positive comment, and have often pointed out that no one can know all the sides of a story. “Who are we to judge” is a great line too. If no one gets the hint, you can always excuse yourself and leave the situation. Example is a wonderful way to teach.

    I have found that if a person starts a sentence with, “I probably shouldn’t say this, but ?” then I should take that opportunity to say, “Wait, don’t say it! I don’t want you to feel bad later.” A dear friend said that to me once, and I have never forgotten the simple lesson she taught me that day, and it didn’t hurt one bit. She helped open my eyes to what I was doing. It has made me a better person. Someone needs to be the teacher. Don’t be afraid. Choose the right!

  • klgreen1 November 4, 2007, 4:27 pm

    Julie, what an awesome tool!! Thanks so much for writing to us. Wouldn’t it be fun if this simple and sensible response were to become sort of an LDS catchphrase? It is perfect. There’s not an ounce of “holier than thou” flavor; but at least a pound of prevention.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:28 pm

    Michelle writes:

    I have an ongoing goal to be careful about this often-too-easy-to-be-party-to problem. I have found that there is a still, small voice that raises a flag (with those quiet thoughts of “maybe I shouldn’t say anything”) but it is up to me to listen to it. The voice is so easily quieted by justification, rationalization or simple dismissal. I have not listened to the voice too many times, and even reading this discussion makes me want to commit once again to being better.

  • klgreen1 November 4, 2007, 4:28 pm

    Michelle, thanks for your encouraging note. Refraining from gossip is a tough trial of obedience. I have appreciated this focus on an old but nettlesome area of self-mastery, also. I think many of us have barely begun to glimpse the amount of impact we might have on others just by the way we are inside.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:29 pm

    Ara writes:
    There is a fine line or maybe it is a really broad way that separates gossip from sharing ones burdens, even if they are negative. How are we going to help if we don’t know? Just because someone shares something negative doesn’t mean we have to commiserate or gossip. Maybe we have an opportunity to help carry or shift their load, enlighten their view and help them to see more clearly. I don’t know. I just know I am grateful I could share my thoughts with you. The insight that has come from that has been invaluable. If I have gossiped I repent. I have always had a hard time distinguishing between sharing news over the fence, sharing one another’s burdens, and gossip because not all gossip is obviously malicious. And sometimes it is the only way you find out your sister is in trouble.

    I know a sister who does not have many people in her life, nor much to think about because her physical condition is so serious. I don’t know that I could handle the situation any better, so I listen a lot. And sometimes try to suggest another way to look at the pain she bears. I don’t think she is gossiping. I think she is crying out for help in a difficult situation.

    I view what she is doing as sharing news over the fence, about the pain in her life. I want to help her, but at present can only offer my love and prayers. She did accept my suggestion to get a visiting teacher. And though her caretakers objected, a wonderful sister is in her life now. Also I told her to ask for a church assignment, and she did. She makes phone calls for the Relief Society.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:30 pm

    Sherry writes:

    Thanks for your selection of a topic that is always with us, no matter who we are or where we live. I’ve lived long enough to have experienced all aspects of gossip: participating in it (shame on me), listening to it, being the object of it, and dealing with it positively. The best counsel I could give parallels that which has already been given in this column. Walk away, use humor, speak positively, or just don’t say it . I use a subtle approach, which is to simply keep saying positives about the situation or person. It doesn’t take long for someone to catch on and the conversation either stops the gossip and moves on or I walk away.

    If you are the object of gossip, the best way I’ve found to handle it is to ignore it. Those that need to know, already know, as do your close friends, the bishop, etc. If the gossip affects your kids, explain what is true about your situation and use this as a teaching experience, using scriptures and quotes from church leaders. I like the analogy of feathers being tossed on wind, they can never all be found, no matter how hard one tries. Thanks again for a magnificent column.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:30 pm

    Karolyn writes:

    Unless you break a confidence it would appear, on the surface, not to be so terribly bad to be person #1 who listens to person #2 and tells person #3 what was said; without addition or subtraction, editorializing, personal opinion or interpretation, of course. Hmmm ?on second thought with all those guidelines to follow, it might be easier to just forget the whole thing!

    The rub is while we do have control over and can choose to monitor what we say and to whom; we cannot be sure person #3 will not add or leave out a germane portion of the “news” and that #5 through #25 have the same standards of responsibility that we claim to hold dear. When it gets to be a problem is when person #2 hears the report days or weeks later and it is not even “kissing kin” to the original story and has rendered someone to become hurt and discouraged. We have no right to do that to anyone.

    Is it allowable to gossip about and judge others when they do not meet my standards or when I perceive they are not meeting those as set down by the Lord? Do I become a scandalmonger using my “perfect actions and ideas” as a measuring stick? Do I believe that others who do not share my standards and live my lifestyle are somehow inferior to me less in the sight of the Lord therefore it is OK to poke fun at their beliefs and actions?

    Technically, I gossip. I talk about others behind their backs. The question then becomes what kind of talk is it?

    Am I a person who habitually reveals personal or sensational facts about others, who is spreading rumor of an intimate nature, bearing false witness, or spreading hurtful tales with the intent or the possible end result of harming another’s reputation or damaging their spirit?

    I have one “bestest” friend to whom I have told my innermost secret thoughts and have confessed all of my doubts and short comings as she has with me. If someone has hurt her feelings or made disparaging remarks about her husband or children she shares that with me as I do with her. We give each other advice which always includes to pray about it. I trust her wisdom, judgment, and advice. We make each other laugh which is such a soothing and healing balm.

    I trust her with my life and my secrets and she does with me. Neither of us has ever broken that trust. We talk about people but in the context of “what is Sister ___ up to these days.” Or she will say “did you hear that ______” in an informative way as we are no longer in the same ward but still have common acquaintances. I would hope we all have one friend as wonderful and trustworthy as mine.

    My favorite “ploy” when someone begins to tell me something I really need to know about someone or a group of “someones” is to claim kinship with the “bad guy.” For instance, someone says something negative about someone I am more than likely to loudly say, “Oh, I know her, she is a really good friend of mine.” [Silence.] Against a race: “Hey, did I tell you that I found an African American [or Jew or Australian Aborigine] in my family history?” [Silence.] Against my church: “Did I tell you I am LDS?” [Silence.] Dissing (disrespecting or putting down) another church: “I have worked with people from that faith. I find them to be wonderful people.” [Silence.] Even about polygamy: “Thank God for polygamy. Without it I would not be here and you would not be able to enjoy the pleasure of my company!” [Dead silence!]

    Perhaps it can be seen as a cowards way but it works for me better than to telling them to shut up or to put a sock in it. Besides I love to see the reaction and the quick exchange of looks. Hey, I need some sort of amusement! Only down side to this is that I miss out on some really juicy stuff! (Just kidding.)

    Gossiping about and the judgment of others: two shriveled peas in the same pod.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 4, 2007, 4:32 pm

    I loved your insights and ideas. I have to say, however, that one part of your note concerns me enought to want to discuss it further. You said of your best friend, “If someone has hurt her feelings or made disparaging remarks about her husband or children she shares that with me as I do with her.”

    While I understand the temptation to do this, and even the emotional relief it brings, I truly think this an inappropriate way to deal with the situation. Even if it stays between the two of you, it has strayed one person to far.

    The scriptures tell us ” ?if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone ?” I just don’t think we can twist this into ” ?if they sister offend thee, thou shalt take your complaint first to your bestest friend, and if that does not sufficiently purge thy soul, thou shalt both gang up on the offender and take her eyes out.”

    It truly is damaging to pass these perceived offenses on to anyone! Let’s do as we are commanded. Go directly to the person involved to reconcile ?and to no one else.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:33 pm

    Joyce writes:

    It’s a problem for all of us, one way or another, whether male or female. However, lately I’ve been concentrating on the following acronym GOSSIP ?Give Our Sins to our Savior In Prayer. When I’m tempted to say something unkind or unnecessary about another, I think of those 8 words and re-focus on what I need to repent about. It helps.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:33 pm

    An anonymous reader writes:

    Gossip exists in a major way in my extended family, i.e. my five siblings and parents. One of my siblings is not speaking with the folks over their continual comments and judgements about the his/her family, how the kids are being raised, money managed , you name it. I currently have a good relationship with the folks (not always been the case though). I have listened to both sides, and treated it as venting. I don’t repeat what one says to the other, and generally try to point out another way of looking at things, or a positive: “perhaps she meant ?” “I’m sure it was just venting.” “My experience with her has been that ?”

    However I have discussed it with another sibling in terms of our mutual frustration, so that would make me a gossip. My mother responds to any shutting down of the conversation with an “oh, aren’t we pious” attitude. The sibling Mom is gossiping about has made it clear to everyone that they will not be discussed, and that if their affairs are discussed with the parents, then the one who “shared” will not be a part of their life. So that gives us all an “out” on the “new” news so to speak.

    However, the rehash of old news is non-stop. Each feels the other is wrong. Attempts at a meeting to discuss the matter between themselves have failed for a number of reasons. Primarily that the sibling wants the parents to be accountable, and the parents have a lifelong pattern of not accepting responsibility for their actions (each of my siblings and myself have at one time or another gone through this scenario with them). Through a great deal of pain and a long process, some have forgiven enough to associate with the folks, some have forgiven completely, and others gradually, grudgingly accept that “this is who they are, there is nothing we can do about it, and if we want grandparents for our kids, then we’ll just have to live with it,” or combinations of the same.

    Ironically, the sibling who is currently most affected takes every opportunity to rehash the various offenses. This sibling has a good deal of other really rough stuff going on with problematic kids, trauma, finances, etc., as well and, frankly, is not in a place to hear advice (though there is the appearance of seeking it sometimes), nor my usual balancing comments, nor my previous experience with similar scenarios. The sibling has gradually isolated him/herself more and more from others and does not share his/her troubles with most of the family due to mistrust. Many of his/her troubles would benefit from a family fast , or just our continual prayers, or even something as simple as a meal or babysitting. This isolation also includes church leaders who have said and done some really dumb things where the sibling’s family is concerned. The “system” they have tried to access for help has also been far from helpful, so there are reasons for the withdrawal. It is also very apparent to me that my sibling is in a depression.

    I simply don’t have the heart to “correct” my sibling. My personal experience is that the only answer is to forgive the parents, regardless of whether they deserve it or not, regardless of whether they ask for it or not. But I had to figure that out on my own, too.

    So sisters, given this situation, what would you do? How do I handle the stressed and depressed sibling, and how do I handle the mother who feels that she has been wronged and feels justified in her hurt to discuss and rehash hurtful stuff? How do I monitor my own discussion with 3rd party siblings who genuinely want to find solutions, as do I, when there just don’t seem to be any, to ensure that I am not a gossip?

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:33 pm

    Doug from Tokyo, writes:

    I’m not a sister, but I found the article and responses regarding gossip interesting and true. Gossip is an extremely easy thing to find yourself participating in sometimes only through the act of listening.

    Two learning experiences in my life have stuck with me and have motivated me to avoid the act of speaking ill of others. First is something my mom said when I was young, “Dull people talk about other people. Average people talk about current events. Bright people talk about ideas.” I don’t remember her exact words, but it stuck with me, and motivated me to avoid talking about other people. The second item is something I learned from my bishop in Texas during many bishopric meetings and welfare meetings. He would say, “Brothers and sisters, as we discuss the needs of members in the ward, we need to ensure we are discussing them with the intent to find ways to help them – otherwise we are gossiping.” I think that is the best acid test regarding gossip; ask yourself why you are motivated to share something negative about someone else.

  • Jeannie Vincent November 4, 2007, 4:34 pm

    I, too, have heard that great adage! Sometimes I catch myself measuring my conversation against that scale and cringe.

    Your bishop was a very good leader and should be called upon to train future bishops. I know I’ve been party to a “welfare meeting/bash” in which some issues discussed had no business being aired in front of an entire committee ?even in the name of “helping.”

    Thanks for your contribution, Doug. I’m framing the adage.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:34 pm

    An anonymous reader from Sydney, Australia, writes:

    I read your remarks about gossip with personal interest. Several years ago I moved into a small rural community. Long before, members in the tiny branch in the area established themselves as judges who decided who may or may not be permitted to join their circle. Over the following years, I saw a number of families come and then leave because of the gossip and rejection that was sent their way. Needless to say, that several years later this branch is still with its original members with little exception. Gossip will not only stunt our individual growth but the growth of the Church shutting out the possibility for others to “come unto Christ.”

    As sisters in Zion we must never allow ourselves to indulge in any form of putting down or unrighteous judgements no matter how justified we may feel. This kind of behavior inhibits the Spirit of our Lord from penetrating ours and other’s hearts and lives and bring about charity and true conversion. My motto is and has been ?”If you can’t say somethin’ nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all” (Thumper from Bambi).

    Truth is truth, be it negative or positive. No intelligent being will dispute that. But is it necessary or wise to spread all truth to all people about others? We can only perceive that truth according to our own experiences and may misinterpret or misjudge the actions/intents of another. Too often we do. We might “innocently” disclose information of a sensitive nature about someone we hold dear but, alas, we cannot know for sure that the hearer will have the same love and respect for our friend. Surely the Lord has directed us through prophets how to deal with our concerns. In Doctrine and Covenants we are told that the bishop is given the calling to judge. If I am sincerely concerned for someone’s welfare, I go to my church leaders in confidence, leave it in their capable hands and offer any support I may be able to give. Then I let it go. I have to. I am too busy with my own affairs to be consumed with other’s problems that are not of my concern.

    There have been many traumatic experiences in my life where I have needed to confide in others, but I have tried to be wise in who I trust with my innermost life, and I only reveal how much I need to at that time. But to my Father in Heaven I reveal all, and I do receive answers in sometimes the most profound ways. I try to use my experiences as faith building and relationship building with Heavenly Father. All my answers have always been found through prayer, in the scriptures and through my priesthood leaders.

    If there is anything I learned during my time in that small rural branch, it is that the responsibility to help Zion flourish is upon our heads. Simply put, if it will build up faith and lead people to Christ, then it is worth saying. If it will tear down faith and cause distress and sorrow, then it is better left unsaid. Thank you for allowing me to contribute to this important topic.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:35 pm

    Sally from Rochester, New York, writes:

    As someone who tries to be a good listener, I have been in your situation a number of times, listening to the same tired offense being dredged up from opposing sides until you’re fed up with the lack of action being taken toward a resolution. When it gets to about the third time of being told about the same offense, I usually decide being a good listener has ceased being a virtue but is now only enabling the parties to let off steam that’s been building up instead of channeling it toward some positive action not to mention being a grand imposition on my time! To nip this in the bud, I give the gossiper a taste of his or her own medicine. I come up with a mantra for each side. First, I seriously consider the situation and decide what my candid advice is to each party, put it into a pithy, one-sentence recommendation, and repeat it over and over whenever there’s a break in the conversation. “Well, you know, if you want the situation to change, you need to do X.” Again, and again, and again. As you have observed, most people engaged in hard core gossip don’t want advice (although they regularly ask for it as a way of legitimizing the act of gossiping), so if I keep on focusing on a single action a person could take to improve the situation and always bring that up when the subject is broached, that person will soon either act or at least stop complaining to me.

    Sometimes the person claims he or she has already tried X to no avail, but if I still believe X is the best way, I keep suggesting to try it again and repeat my reasons for the advice. This approach may sound insensitive, and I wouldn’t recommend it for first-time venting, but if every time you talk to your friend or family member he or she puts on the same old broken record, this should do the trick!

  • klgreen1 November 4, 2007, 4:36 pm

    Sally, what a great idea!! Remember the old book Games People Play? This “game” is called “Yes, but.” There is no winner. You have to recognize that this is your “partner’s” game and decide how much longer you want to play.

  • Alison Moore Smith November 4, 2007, 4:37 pm

    Whoo, boy. Have you hit the nail on the head. There are some martyrs in my life who raise the cry of victimhood on every chance meeting we have. No matter what the situation or the suggested solution, they have already done it ten times over to no avail. Apparently all the laws of physics are suspended in the cause of making their lives miserable. There is, simply, never anything they can do.

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:38 pm

    An anonymous reader from Sydney, Australia, writes:

    I would like to share the following anonymously since it is a first hand observation. I was raised in a very small, somewhat isolated, community, where my mother was the “town gossip.” Most people in this community had intermarried, belonged to the same protestant church and worked in the same industry. This meant whatever was discussed became common knowledge everywhere.

    At this point, there was not a lot to do for entertainment, so gossip certainly could add something to the dull existence. I could not wait to grow up and leave this community where I had no privacy.

    Forty years later, my mother can still dish out the dirt at the mere mention of someone’s name that belonged to this once- isolated community. It does no good to ask her to refrain, because at 80 years of age, it is such an ingrained part of her, that she does not even seem to realize that this happens. She has a fantastic memory, but it seems to be only for gossip. I often wonder what she would have accomplished if she had focused that intelligent memory on something else. We can all recognize the initial trauma of unjust gossip, but being labeled for life becomes a life sentence of sorts.

    The Lord forgives and forgets, so are we not hindering his work when we continue to remind others of a person’s scandals? Do we not pass judgment when we dish out the dirt? Surely, none of us will be so bold to stand up on judgment day and say, “Lord, I know you did not mean to forget, but you do remember what so-and-so did, don’t you?” The boundaries for gossip are very thin. We all want to know a certain amount about another person to deal appropriately with that person. We also live in the age of gossip magazines, newspapers, etc. I think we do have to listen to that voice that says, “Why am I sharing this and what good will this information do?”

  • Reader Comment November 4, 2007, 4:38 pm

    Clarke from Loveland, Colorado, writes:

    Hi, Kathy, Jeannie, and Alison,

    I found a lot of reason for some introspection in your column on gossip (rather than your “gossip column”), and it reminded me of a situation I encountered while in the men’s room of a truck stop along I-80 in southern Wyoming a couple of years ago. I was in one of the stalls and some guy was washing up. As he pursued his task with soap and water, he was also carrying on with a couple of other men about all the stuff he knew about the “Mormons” which he had obviously learned from anti-church literature, adding his own embellishments. He started going off about polygamy and a bunch of other stuff (my mother is one of 25 children born to my grandfather in two polygamous families), and you should have heard him suddenly silenced by the anonymous voice coming from my stall informing him, in front of those he was talking to, that he had absolutely no clue of what he was talking about, and he would be wise to get his facts straight before shooting off his mouth in public.

    Sometimes you just have to “tell it to ’em straight.” I don’t know if this qualifies as “defending the faith,” but I felt that he needed to be countered as forcefully as he was attacking my heritage and my beliefs.

    As my wife keeps saying, “I’m neither outspoken nor opinionated, then she adds that she’s not stubborn.” Three pounds at birth during World War II and raising nine kids, you have to be stubborn to make it.

    As for the article: Very insightful, and dead-on.

    Looks like you have a great publication underway!

  • davidson November 5, 2007, 7:38 am

    Hey, Clarke, loved to hear from you! I was going to say that older men add some valuable perspective–and then I thought, “No, it isn’t the fact that he is older than I am, and it isn’t the fact that he is a man! What I value in him is that he is a brave Christian, and that fact knows no age or gender!” Onward, Christian soldier! Please post again.

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