The Power of a Woman’s Words by Sharon Jayne
A monster was sneaking into my yard in the dark of night and devouring my prize plants. I never saw his beady eyes or heard his pounding footsteps—just the aftermath of his destruction. He left a trail of slime as he moved from plant to plant, leaving large gaping holes in broad leaf gerbera daisies, gnawing entire velvety trumpet-shaped blossoms on purple petunias, and reducing bushy begonias to naked stalks.
I asked a neighbor about my flower bed’s demise, and she said, “You’ve got slugs.”
“Slugs!” I exclaimed. “The yard monster is a tiny little slug?”
“You can put out slug bait to catch them and see for yourself,” my confident neighbor continued.
I sprinkled slug bait all around the yard and then waited. The next morning I viewed the “monsters’” remains. The beasts were about a quarter-inch long—about the size of my little toe nail. How could something so small cause so much damage in such a short amount of time? I mused.
Then my mind thought of something else very small that can cause enormous damage in a short amount of time…gossip.
King Solomon wrote, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8).
Just as one tiny slug can destroy an entire flower bed, so can one tiny morsel of gossip destroy a person’s reputation, mar one’s character, and devour a friendship.
In the South we have this knack for making gossips sound…almost nice. All you have to do is add “bless her heart” to the end of the sentence.
It goes like this: “Susie gained fifty pounds with that last pregnancy, bless her heart.”
“Marcy’s husband ran off with his secretary, bless her heart.”
“I heard Clair yelling at the postman yesterday, bless her heart.”
But all the “bless her hearts” don’t mask what is really going on…gossip.
Maybe if we are spending our time talking about people, we need to fill our minds with better material, such as good books and other reading material (and I don’t mean People magazine or the Enquirer).
What exactly is gossip? My dictionary defines gossip as “easy, fluent, trivial talk, talk about people behind their backs.” It’s repeating information about another person’s private affairs. If you have to look around to make sure that no one can hear what you are saying, you are probably gossiping. If you would not say something in front of the person you are talking about, then you’re probably gossiping.
We have often heard the phrase “knowledge is power.” Perhaps that is why gossip is so appealing. It suggests a certain amount of power because “I have the inside scoop.”
But gossip is not power. On the contrary, it shows a lack of power…a lack of self-control.
But it takes two to tango the gossip dance. “Without wood the fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20). The Bible tells us to make every effort to avoid gossipers (Proverbs 20:19).
A good rule of thumb is if you are not part of the problem or part of the solution, then keep the information to yourself.
Paul warned, “Some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business” (2 Thessalonians 3:11 ). Other translations call such people “busybodies” .
One day a woman felt overwhelmed with guilt over her years of malicious gossip. She went to the local priest and confessed her sin. The priest was all too aware of her wagging tongue and had experienced the sting of her words firsthand…or rather secondhand.
“What can I do to rectify all the damage I have caused with my gossip?” she asked.
“Gather a bag of feathers,” he began. “Then go around to each house and place a feather at their door.”
That seemed like a simple enough request, so the woman did just as the priest had instructed. After the task was complete, she returned. “I have done what you requested,” she said. “Now what am I to do?”
“Now go back and retrieve each of the feathers,” he replied.
“That is impossible,” the woman argued. “The wind will have blown them all around town by now.”
“Exactly,” replied the wise priest. “Once you have spoken an ill word, it drifts through the air on wings of gossip, never to be retrieved. God has forgiven you, as you have asked. But I cannot remove the consequences of your hurtful words or gather them from the places they have landed.”
Here’s an idea. If a friend approaches you with some “news” or a “concern” about another person, stop and ask, “May I quote you on what you’re about to tell me?” That will usually put a lid on the conversation before it even begins.
IS IT TRUE, KIND, NECESSARY?
BY Elizabeth Foss
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a young mom with a preschooler and a new baby and another mother I’d met working at a small magazine called Welcome Home invited me to her house to watch her family in action. She was a Catholic woman, a few years older than me, whom I admired greatly. She had five children at the time. The oldest was 10 or 12. In my book, that made her a veteran. I had no idea what parenting a large family looked like from the inside and was grateful for the invitation.
What happened there that day has had a profound effect on the every-day conversations in our own home ever since. I still clearly remember the incident: Her eldest, a boy, said something to her third, a girl. She came running, crying, to protest. My friend called her son and began what was obviously a well-known routine.
“Was it true?”
“Well, yeah, sort of, it was.”
“Was it kind?”
“No,” he said, shuffling his feet and hanging his head. “Sorry, Sis,” he offered without prompting. And that was that.
“The third filter is, ‘Was it necessary?’” my friend said. “But we rarely get that far. Every time one of these squabbles breaks out, every time one of them comes to me with a tale to tell, we filter it three ways: true, kind, necessary. It’s a simple way to teach them to communicate with grace.”
And so it is. For 18 years, I’ve taken that three-way filter as my own.
Is it true? This means we stop before passing along hearsay or gossip. It also means that we hold a grand story up to the exaggeration test. While I encourage flights of fancy and happy imaginings, it’s important for children to learn to distinguish truth from fantasy, opinion or supposition in their retelling or relaying of information. This is also the filter that says we won’t listen to gossip in our home, nor will we pass it along. Unless we know something to be absolutely true, it does not get by this filter.
Is it kind? In his classic, Spiritual Conferences, Father Frederick William Faber writes:
“Devout people are, as a class, the least kind of all classes. This is a scandalous thing to say; but the scandal of the fact is so much greater than the scandal of acknowledging it, that I will brave this for the sake of a greater good. Religious people are an unkindly lot.
“Poor human nature cannot do everything; and kindness is too often left uncultivated, because men do not sufficiently understand its value. Men may be charitable, yet not kind; merciful, yet not kind; self-denying, yet not kind.
If they would add a little common kindness to their uncommon graces, they would convert 10 where they now only abate the prejudices of one. There is a sort of spiritual selfishness in devotion, which is rather to be regretted than condemned.
“I should not like to think it is unavoidable. Certainly its interfering with kindness is not unavoidable. It is only a little difficult, and calls for watchfulness. Kindness, as a grace, is certainly not sufficiently cultivated, while the self-gravitating, self-contemplating, self-inspecting parts of the spiritual life are cultivated too exclusively.”
In a family, self-gravitating, self-contemplating and self-inspecting cannot be allowed to crowd out simple kindness. Familiarity cannot be allowed to crowd out simple kindness. Home should be the place where a child or an adult can feel safe from the lack of compassion and bullying so common in the world outside. Home should provide the shelter of kindness.
Is it necessary? Does this need to be said? As our communications lurch forward at reckless speed and it becomes commonplace to tweet, share and blog every time we sneeze, children have to be intentionally taught the value of silence. Without quiet, we cannot hear. Without quiet, there is no white space; there are no boundaries. Does what I’m going to share contribute to the holiness and happiness of our community? In a big, busy family, quiet is a valuable thing.
It’s a simple three-fold filter: true, kind and necessary. The people who use it are happier, and the people who live with the people who use it are cradled in grace-filled communication.
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