We all remember playing the telephone game (aka the gossip game) as kids, right? A group of people sit in a circle. You have a starter phrase or sentence which is usually something silly like elephants cannot tango or a guppy in a shark tank. The first person whispers the phrase into the ear of the person beside them. Then they whisper the phrase into the ear of the person next to them. You keep going until you get to the last person in the circle. The last person whispers the phrase into the ear of the person who originally said it. Normally, by the time the phrase makes its way around the circle; it has changed.
Now, to be fair, there is always that one kid who purposefully changes what he heard. He’ll change the word guppy to puppy even though he clearly heard guppy. Yes, the game is fun when the original phrase gets changed. Everyone gets a good laugh. However, there’s also a sense of accomplishment if the original phrase doesn’t change. Yay! No one is needs to see an ENT specialist!
We played the telephone game a lot in youth group and it was used as a lesson. When we repeat things, they’re likely to change. Sometimes, because we simply did not hear what was actually said. Sometimes, it’s because we are intentionally and deliberately changing what we heard. And sometimes, because our own memories fail us. Our memories aren’t all that reliable actually. Whatever the reason, there is actually a certain danger that comes with spreading stories.
Talking about a person in their absence isn’t always sin. If I tell you that my Aunt Karen makes the best brownies (she does, by the way); I’m talking about her when she’s not around. Is that gossip? No, it’s not. The best definition I ever heard for gossip is secret slander. Gossip is always done behind a person’s back. It’s either false or damaging or both.
There are several reasons why our flesh is drawn to gossip. Today, we’re just going to focus on one of those reasons. Gossip, at times, can be a way to avoid confrontation. Instead of going directly to a person and talking through our issues; we talk about them. We tell everyone but the person we’re upset with why we’re upset. It’s a bit counter-productive, no?
No one likes confrontation and I certainly understand that. It’s not easy to walk up to someone we care about and tell them why we’re upset with them. Avoidance seems like a better alternative, but it’s really not. If we let our anger or frustration stew; it builds. That’s usually when we go around talking about the person we’re upset with.
The best thing to do is go directly to the person with whom with have conflict. It’s my experience that more often than not, our quarrels are due to simple misunderstandings. If we’d just mend the relationship from the beginning, the entire conflict would blow over. Instead, we run our mouth to anyone who will listen and throw gas on the proverbial fire. If you have a problem with someone; go directly to them.
One additional thought: what if we’re seeking advice on how to handle a situation? I hear this brought up a lot. I would encourage you to seek advice from someone who is disconnected from the situation and can be objective. You can seek advice without bringing the person’s name up, too!
To wrap this up: please, go directly to a person if you’re upset with them. Don’t fan the flames of conflict. Let us aim to be at peace with one another.