We were enjoying an early morning walk when we came upon two dogs we’ve never met before. One of them was a twin of Louie. She was a Corgi-Beagle mix, and she even had the same facial markings as Louie. She was a bit smaller than Louie, and her owner called her Peanut.
There was a noticeable difference, however, in the size of their mouths. Like her name, she was a peanut, and her mouth was tiny compared to Louie’s very big mouth. Louie’s mouth can do many things: bark, growl, show his teeth, eat, and mouth to pull and play. Louie provides “love taps” by poking his mouth against your hand when he is excited to see you. His mouth is conveniently attached to his nose, which he uses to poke and prod. They work together to borough in the ground and pull lumps of grass to get to a mole.
Although Louie’s large mouth is actually harmless, he could do a lot of damage with it. This is not unlike ourselves. Our mouths, specifically our tongues, may seem harmless, but oh the damage they can do and usually, unnecessarily.
I love what the Bible teaches us about the tongue. “A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it…” and “You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done.” (James 3: 3–7)
We have the power to use our words to give life or to bring death to our relationships. Hurtful words can be used in slander, gossip, arguing, criticizing, complaining, distasteful language, boasting, and lying. And the damage can be irreparable. As we read that list, we shake our heads for we clearly know others who do these things. Yet, there’s a small voice within us that whispers, “Could this be me?”
I believe we are all guilty of some or all of these things. For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the first two: gossip and slander. By definition, gossip is sharing personal or sensational facts about others; sharing private information with those who are not part of the problem or solution. Slander is using words, tonal patterns, or facial expressions to deliberately damage someone else’s reputation with information that does not need to be shared.
We all do this either subtly or with as much gusto as possible, and perhaps we are not aware of the damage we are doing. I am most grieved by those who teach and preach against gossip and yet do so under the guise of caring for the person they are talking about, or worse, having the need to play the victim role and share how unfair, someone treated them.
It takes intentionality to not step foot on the slippery slope of gossip and slander. It is not easy but commit to using the PAWS method below to help before doing something you may regret (like getting into a gossip session).
Through my relationship with Louie, I have learned a tremendous amount about my relationships with humans. With the size of his mouth, he could take a chunk out of someone, but he clearly chooses not to. In that same way, I want nothing to stand in my way with those who are in my life, even those with whom I interact for a short time. I am going to stamp out gossip and slander in my life using the PAWS method. I hope you will join me.
THE P.A.W.S. METHOD
PAUSE: Breathe! Allow oxygen to get to your brain. There is power in the pause. When we pause before speaking, we gain time to process our thoughts. I’d rather make people uncomfortable with my pause than with my words. I’ve never regretted my pauses, but too many times, I have regretted my words.
ASK: Ask questions, and in this case of gossiping, ask yourself these things: What’s going on with me? Why do I have this need to share this? Would I want this person sharing information about me? Would I share this if the other person were in front of me? Reflect on your answers before you speak.
WISDOM: Choose your words wisely. When we speak from a place of wisdom, people are more inclined to listen. Carefully consider the words you are about to say. If they are not life giving, do not say them. Nothing good comes from useless, mindless words.
STOP AND SEEK TO UNDERSTAND: Stop gossiping for one day and truly seek to understand others. When we want to lose weight, we log our food to keep track of what we are putting into our bodies. Take a day this week to log how many times you talk about someone else. That may make you more aware of how easily gossip has seeped into your life. Then ask a friend to hold you accountable when you are together and commit to not talking about others.