THINK OF THESE: Preaching the bad news

ONCE upon a time, there were three priests who came together in a park. While talking with each other, they started to reveal their innermost secrets. “I have used the church’s money in building my mother’s house,” bared the first. “Please don’t tell anyone about this.”

“My problem is,” the second revealed, “I have impregnated a beautiful lady. She will deliver our baby soon.” Like the first priest, he urged that it, too, should be kept a secret.

“What about you?” the two asked the third priest.

“Mine is not really that immense,” he said. “I just can’t control my tongue. You see, when I hear some secrets, I can’t help myself but share them to others.”

Gossip, the act of spreading news from person to person (especially rumors or private information), is relevant as ever. Among Visayans, it is known as tabi” or libak. To most Filipinos, it is plain tsismis, or the current slang chika. The word “gossip” originates from ‘god-sib,’ the godparent of one’s child or parent of one’s godchildren (“god-sibling”), referring to a relationship of close friendship. The ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ traces the usage of godsib back as far as 1014.

One story (probably fiction because truth is more strange) tells how, at the beginning of the 20th century, politicians would send assistants to bars to sit and listen to general public conversations. The assistants had instructions to sip a beer and listen to opinions; they responded to the command to “go sip,” which allegedly turned into “gossip.”

In the olden times, gossip were resorted to normalize and re-inforce moral boundaries in a speech-community; foster and build a sense of community with shared interests and information; entertain and divert participants in gossip-sessions; retail and develop stories and even legends; build structures and social accountability; and reflect unvarnished and spontaneous public opinion.

In modern times, however, “gossip” is now often commonly understood to mean the spreading of rumor and misinformation, often through excited conversation over scandals. As one saying puts it, “A lie has no leg, but a scandal has wings.”

Recently, I attended Sunday worship in Davao.   The church pastor, in his message, told us: “Beware of this sinful organ which I shall not mention by name. It gives man so much pleasure but causes much regret and shame. Although it is a small roll of flesh, from it all mischief has sprung.”

We were all wide awake when the pastor further said, “Now, I will show this monster.” He opened his mouth and put out his tongue.

When it comes to gossip, the Holy Bible uses tongue to symbolize it. James 3:5-6: “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and it itself set on fire by hell.”

All this happens when a person uses his tongue to say something bad or embarrassing about another person. Apostle James warned that so far, no man has ever tamed the tongue. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison,” he said.

“Gossip,” novelist George Elliot once wrote, “is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who diffuse it; it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker.” Joseph Conrad states: “Gossip is what no one claims to like, but everybody enjoys.”

Bestselling author Erica Jong considers gossip as “the opiate of the oppressed.” Sholom Aleichem describes gossip as “nature’s telephone.” Walter Winchell has this idea: “Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid.”

You may not know it, but sometimes you may be the talk of the town. But just be reminded of the words of Antoine de Rivarol: “Of every ten persons who talk about you, nine will say something bad, and the tenth will say something good in a bad way.” Oscar Wilde puts it this way: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Some people complained that when they do good things, no one talks about it. But when they commit an error, no one forgets. These people probably have not heard the words of Bertrand Arthur William Russell: “No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.”

Gossipers come in different form. But they have the same agenda: “They come together like the Coroner’s Inquest, to sit upon the murdered reputations of the week,” said William Congreve.

Yes, men also gossip but women and those in-between generally are identified as the most gossiping people in the world. Andrea Dworkin complained: “While gossip among women is universally ridiculed as low and trivial, gossip among men, especially if it is about women, is called theory, or idea, or fact.”

“A gossip,” the Holy Bible says, “separates close friends.” How true, how true. Gossip can destroy reputations, disrupt families, divide neighbors, and cause widespread heartbreak. How many happily married couples have been separated because of gossip? Countless!

Stop spreading the bad news then. Proverbs 26:20 reminds, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

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