Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Death by lies: Rumors, gossip, and slander

Many people have been badly damaged as a result of someone starting a rumor about them. Rumors are started out of a desire for revenge, in anger, as an attempt to deflect scrutiny, to inflate the ego of the rumormonger – always very selfish reasons.

A rumor that’s directed at a person is gossip, hearsay, vilification, slander, defamation, and libel. It’s a piece of fiction masquerading as fact; a lie that someone has expended a great deal of effort to disguise as truth.

Rumors can cause irreparable harm

Children angry at their teachers or parents have fabricated horrible accusations that have ended careers and split homes. Politicians caught in compromising situations attack the reputations of innocent bystanders. Criminals cast aspersions at their victims. And, too often, in the heat and heartbreak of divorce, one spouse lashes out and falsely accuses the other of abuse, cheating, molestation, and worse, attempting to assassinate the character of someone to whom they once pledged their undying love.

Sadly, once such accusations are let loose, the accused innocent may be tagged for life. Killing rumors is like shooting at ghosts. How can you kill what isn't real?

Hear-sayers find eager ears

It’s amazing how gullible people are and how hungry they can be to readily hear and accept without question as true lies told about another.

A person who starts and feeds one or more rumors damages their own integrity, conscience, and credibility. As time goes on, they will shed friends who exhibit and maintain these positive qualities. Those who remain around them and readily believe the lies probably are also gossips and slanderers.

Gossips feed off other gossips. Slandering generates an insatiable appetite for more.

Paul describes these kinds of people in very harsh and graphic terms in Romans 1:28-32:
“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
Denying the truth about themselves

Often those who are chronic rumormongers have serious sin issues they’re trying to deny. Instead of taking responsibility for their own moral failings, they spin condemning rumors about others to deflect scrutiny and make themselves feel superior. The person starting the rumor is attempting to bolster their own perverted sense of self-righteousness.

It’s a sick way to live.

The ultimate tragedy is when the lying gossiper sustains the rumor for so long that they forget the original truth and believe the lie they created. The lie becomes their truth and reality, ruling their lives and ultimately destroying them.

Proverbs 16:27-29 puts it like this: “A scoundrel plots evil, and on their lips it is like a scorching fire. A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. A violent person entices their neighbor and leads them down a path that is not good.”

Gossips are not good friends to have.

How to put the kibosh on a gossip

If someone approaches you with a “story” about some situation that they want your reaction to or advice about, if you choose to listen, be prepared to screen for gossip.

  • Ask probing, specific questions: what, where, when, how, who, and why. Gossips will leave out important facts. For example, they’ll fail to pass along that after a moral failure the person confessed and repented. A gossip will only focus on the sin and won’t mention the work toward redemption.
  • If they’re on a mission to gossip, as you probe you’ll surface inconsistencies. Pay attention for shifts in the story line and then call them on it and press them for a clear explanation. For example, a gossip may claim someone did something at a specific time and place, but you realize that person was somewhere else at the time. The gossip will then try to recast the information on the fly. Don’t let them!
  • Keep asking questions to clarify their story and get to the essential “facts.” A gossip will resist being pinned down, even if there is some truth to their lie.
  • Have them make it clear to you why they are sharing this information; ask them what they want from you. Someone seeking your advice will likely be troubled or cautious about sharing the information, while a gossip will enjoy telling you every salacious detail.
  • If you suspect you’re being fed gossip, tell them you’re going to check the story with the person or persons they’ve reference in their gossip. A gossiper will panic or try to direct you to a fellow-gossiper. But, if the person is genuinely seeking your advice, don’t break their confidence.

If someone is telling you the truth and genuinely seeking your counsel, they’ll be happy to clarify the facts. If they’re lying, your questions will make them sweat and stutter and very likely will send them packing.

Gossips want you to listen, validate them, believe horrible lies about others, and share in spreading the story. They aren’t looking for a resolution to anything, instead they want to keep the rumor mill churning. Someone seeking advice will be quick to protect reputations and believe the best about people; they are wanting to find a way to help improve what may be a painful or harmful situation.

Don’t join in with another's gossip. Listening to and spreading rumors puts your hand on the knife that’s lodged in the heart of another's reputation.

Now, have you heard about … ???

Have you ever been the victim of gossip? How did you handle it? Do you have trouble shutting down gossip? Why do you think that is? Please share your thoughts about gossip, experiences as a victim of gossip, or techniques for disarming gossip in the comments!

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