THINK ON THESE | Gossiping: 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 priest. “Please don’t tell anyone about this.”

“My problem is,” the second priest 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 with 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 the truth is stranger) 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, gossips 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.”

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 is 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 people 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 complain 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 forms. 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.

You may have heard the anecdote of The Alchemist written by Paulo Coelho:

In ancient Greece, Socrates had a great reputation for wisdom. One day, someone came to find the great philosopher and said to him: “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”

“A moment,” Socrates replied, “Before you tell me, I would like to test you on the three sieves.”

The man inquired what the sieves were. “Yes,” continued Socrates. “Before telling anything about others, it’s good to take the time to filter what you mean. I call it the test of the three sieves. The first sieve is the truth. Have you checked if what you’re going to tell me is true?”

“No, I just heard it,” the man replied.

“Very good,” Socrates said. “So, you don’t know if it’s true. We continue with the second sieve, that of kindness. What you want to tell me about my friend, is it good?”

“On the contrary,” the man said.

“So,” Socrates asked, “you want to tell me bad things about him and you’re not even sure if they’re true? Maybe you can still pass the test of the third sieve, that of utility. Is it useful that I know what you’re going to tell me about this friend?”

“No, really,” the man replied.

“So,” concluded Socrates, “what you’re going to tell me is neither true, nor good, or useful. Why, then, did you want to tell me this?”

Mga Marites, 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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