In a recent letter, my friend’s mother accused me of being a hypocrite. Well to be honest, she actually called me a “hypocrate.” Yeah, I chuckled at that too.
Why did she call me a “hypocrate”? Because I made a very stupid mistake. While calling out both her daughter and myself as being guilty of some pretty hard-core gossip, I also mentioned some of the abuses I’ve borne in the past. Abuse of every kind from emotional to sexual. I was testing their empathy. “We all have our quirks,” was her response.
Okay, I’ll play along. No, not with calling sexual abuse “quirky”! No, no, no, no, no! Typical cult talk.
But she brings up an interesting point. Is talking about abuse / abusers “gossip”? Should we shut up about it?
Clarify Your Terms!
As with every topic, first we must “clarify our terms.” I get that phrase from Surprised By Joy, C. S. Lewis’ autobiography. He writes affectionately about Professor Kirkpatrick, his tutor who inspired the curmudgeonly yet lovable Professor Kirke in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Professor Kirkpatrick, or The Great Knock, as he was affectionately known by his pupils, challenged everyone to think logically. To divorce themself from emotion or assumption and aspire to pure, clean logic. “Clarify your terms” was his clarion call.
C.S. Lewis tells of one time when The Great Knock, well, Lewis tells it better than I do:
It will be imagined that Mrs. Kirkpatrick led a somewhat uneasy life: witness the occasion on which her husband by some strange error found himself in the drawing-room at the beginning of what his lady had intended to be a bridge party. About half an hour later she was observed to leave the room with a remarkable expression on her face; and many hours later still the Great Knock was discovered sitting on a stool in the midst of seven elderly ladies…begging them to clarify their terms.
So what exactly is gossip!?
The first known use of the word “gossip” dates to 1014 Anno Domini. Taken from https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2012/01/gossip-in-early-modern-england.html
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest recorded use of the word “gossip” comes from 1014, but its meaning would have no resonance today, for “gossip” referred to a child’s godmother or godfather. The spiritual kinship between the child and the godparent extended to the child’s birth parents as well, making them “siblings in god.” And here is where things get really cool: “gossip” is short for “god-sib” which is itself an abbreviated form of “god sibling.” Thus your gossips were the women and men you chose as godparents for your child – gossips were your closest friends.
Ain’t that the truth! It’s always your nearest and dearest!
The free Oxford Living Dictionary (because I refuse to pay $295 for access to the hoity-toity Oxford online dictionary site!) defines gossip thusly:
noun (plural: gossips)
1 Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.
‘he became the subject of much local gossip’1.1 noun A conversation about other people; an instance of gossiping.
‘she just comes round here for a gossip’1.2 derogatory A person who likes talking about other people’s private lives.
There’s an ambiguity there. It may be true, it may be untrue. It may be public knowledge, it may be private.
Right or Wrong?
We all know gossip isn’t “nice” and frankly, “nice” is a huge codependent trap(!), but where does that belief come from? Well, you could say it comes from the Golden Rule. I hate being discussed behind my back, so I shouldn’t do it to others.
In the Judeo-Christian world, we point to verses such as Proverbs 16:28b (KJV) or 1 Timothy 5: 13 (J. B. Phillips version):
“…a whisperer separateth chief friends”
“Moreover, they get into habits of slackness by being so much in and out of other people’s houses. In fact they easily become worse than lazy, and degenerate into gossips and busybodies with dangerous tongues.”
Interestingly, the law-of-the-land even informs our study of “gossip.” But they don’t call it gossip: they call it defamation, slander (verbal) or libel (written.) Ah yes, defamation has been in the news a lot lately. Everybody is suing everybody else for defamation! But you never really look into the topic until you are threatened with a defamation lawsuit yourself.
And this is where it gets really interesting! Damaging information about a person is not defamatory if it is true! Hmmmm, very interesting.
Trust Your Gut
There’s no cut-and-dried “Thou Shalt Not” about gossip, so I suggest we go with our gut. Trust our intuition. Examine your true motives. C’mon! We all know when it’s gossip and when it’s not. When it’s calculated to hurt or ruin someone else’s reputation merely for the fun of it or to buoy our own ego or to make conversation or manipulate our audience. Now that’s gossip!
But circling back to our original thesis: Is talking about abuse/abusers “gossip”?
I’m going to say “no” for two important reasons.
- We, as a culture, tried hushing up abuse. For centuries, abusers’ evil was hidden from view, swept under the carpet, hidden in archives, transferred from parish to parish while everyone hushed up and shamed the abusees while the abuser was slapped on the back as a good ol’ boy / girl. And look at the mess we’re all in today!
- It’s not Scriptural. Aren’t we supposed to be Christ-like? Then let’s take a leaf from His book! “Then Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples….”
“Alas for you, you hypocritical scribes and Pharisees! You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of rottenness. For you appear like good men on the outside—but inside you are a mass of pretence and wickedness. –Matthew 23:27-28 (J. B. Phillips)
Evil Insists on Silence
What does every sexual abuser tell their victim? “Don’t tell anyone! It’s our little secret. If you tell, I’ll kill your mother, brother, sister.”
Silence is the sign of evil. Evil must have silence! So naturally, evil will label talking about abuse “gossip” so it can cover its own ass.