My roommate and I were sitting at dinner recently when I leaned over and, nodding forward, I stated, “Wow, look at that table. Can you imagine sitting with that group?”
“I would die,” were her exact words. For a few seconds more we considered the reasons we did not want to sit with the group sitting at that table, before my roommate exclaimed that we needed to stop. I immediately agreed. Gossip is a very dangerous weapon.
While I believe gossip is always a risky game, Christians especially need to keep a tight reign on our tongues (and thoughts!). Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
One of the concepts I have learned from my studies of communication is that, just as reality forms how we communicate, how we communicate forms reality. This is seen concretely in considering the following scenario: on the first day of class, I get a slightly negative vibe from my teacher. As the semester continues, I mention this to my classmates, most of whom–in some shape or form–are willing to reciprocate my negative viewpoint. Having further cemented by original perspective, I continue through the class with this perspective, finding more and more that I dislike. As discussed in my previous post “You’ll See What You Want to See” perception works in such a way that, if not countered, we’ll see what we expect to see. Hence, the worse I speak about a class, the more negatively I’ll think about it, the more I’ll see the bad end of everything related. Talking negatively about the class will help to create a reality of negativity about the class.
As stated in my Cross-Cultural Psychology textbook,* “…not only do our beliefs, values, and perceptions affect our use of language, but our use of language affects our beliefs, values, and perceptions (p.52).” Take the title of this post for example (which I drew from this textbook). “Ontologically impaired” and “dead” mean the same thing, but speaking of them with different words changes the way they affect our emotions. Similarly, the way we speak of people changes our perceptions of them.
On the flip side, being positive (even if it’s forced) will help to create a positive reality. Consider Amy Cuddy’s research on how (non-verbally) communicating confidence actually makes a person more confident. Communicating confidence actually raised confidence-boosting hormones! Communication really makes reality.
Therefore, even if the gossip never even goes farther than your lips, gossip is never innocent. Even so much as thinking the negative thoughts can make them a reality, if you allow the thoughts to incubate. For others’ sake, as well as for your own, stop yourself from speaking and thinking negatively about others. Aim to make a more positive reality. Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Have you ever experienced how thinking or speaking negatively or thinking or speaking positively actually affected the situation for the worse or for the better? If not, give positive thinking a conscious, sincere effort and see if you can tell a difference. Let me know how things go!
*Shiraev, E. B., Levy, D. A. (2013). Cross-cultural psychology: Critical thinking and contemporary applications (5th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.