Rumour has it … that gossip has been killed! The Art of killing gossip.

January 24, 2016 Gustav Gous

Rumour has it … that gossip has been killed!  The Art of killing gossip.


Our national sport is not rugby, soccer, football or cricket – it is gossip. We all partake: You either (i) do it; (ii) don’t do it but enjoy it privately; or (ii) felt the pain of gossip caused by others in your own life.  This blog will give practical advice at the end on how to handle gossip in these three situations.


You say: It’s harmless – what’s wrong with a bit of gossip news? You say with Alice R. Longworth: ‘If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody … come sit next to me’ … and I will tell you a thing or two!  


How would you feel if your medical doctor, psychologist, life coach, local pastor, confession priest, best friend and confidant, has a secret gossip problem – spilling the beans about your sexual habits/diseases and deepest inner insecurities? Not nice anymore?  I thought so. People start to dislike gossip, when you gossip about them.


Remember the story about the 3 pastors/priests having a confession session about their secret sins? Pastor 1. ‘I secretly obsess about other women and even had a sexual relation with one of the parish members’. Pastor 2: ‘Mine is money - I have helped myself to the church offering money’. They turned to the last one and asked: What is your secret sin?  Pastor 3: ‘Gossip – and I can’t wait to get out of here to tell everybody….!‘


You would rather have a coach or counsellor who will go to the grave with all the incriminating things that he/she has heard over the years, keeping confidentiality. (PS: One of the greatest compliments I ever received as a life coach, was at a farewell function after 9 years as the in-house counsellor for the petro-chemical company Sasol: They said that in 9 years there was no breach of confidentiality of any personal information shared in private counselling.   In corporate counselling, the principle is that only process information may be shared with HR or leadership, but no content information.) 


What is gossip?  It is sharing selective information and half-truths about the behaviour and personal lives of other people, in order to put other people in a bad light. Professional gossipers master the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid (Walter Winchell). Gossip is dangerous:  “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, smoke right from the pit of hell.” - James 3:5-6 in The Message (MSG). Perhaps it is true that gossip is carried by haters, spread by fools, and accepted by idiots.


The difference between gossip and normal news or investigative journalism is: Newspaper editors or Investigative Journalism TV editors take their journalists through the rigorous discipline of verifying facts before they go to press. They don’t want to lose money being sued for character defamation orcrimen injuria - a wilful injury to someone's dignity. The gossiper doesn’t care about character defamation or half-truths. They just spread the news and don’t mind causing hurt.


Why do people gossip?  Inquisitiveness? Is it because people don’t have interesting lives themselves and focus on the lives of others? Is it because people are insecure, so they point out flaws in other people to make them feel good about themselves? Is it because they don’t have courage to confront a person directly?  Is it plain shallowness?  Henry Thomas Buckle (not Eleanor Roosevelt) said: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”


Let’s look at the 4 kinds of gossip and the reasons behind them. 


  1.   1. Negligent gossip: Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true. Mindless, third-party conversation with loose lips and tongues on truths or half-truths about a person not present. You negligently throw in all sorts of unnecessary information to spice up the conversation and tint the character of others:  “Oh yes, Sandy, the one who got pregnant before marriage’, or ‘Pete, after his extra marital affair, he started a new job, at ..’.  


  1.   2. ‘Nose in my business’ - gossip. Sometime you are tempted to tell the proverbial town Gossip: Here is your nose – I found it in my business.  We all live in neighbourhoods, surrounded by voluntary spies, where news travels at the speed of boredom (Carlos Ruiz Zafón & Jane Austen). This kind of gossip is conducted by people who don’t have lives of their own, and they find the meaning of their existence to be voyeurs in, and broadcasters of the lives of others. Gossip columns fit in here. Interesting that no successful actor or sportsperson runs a gossip column on the secret lives of famous people. They have a life and success of their own. 


  1.   3. ‘Character murder’ – gossip. This type of gossip is when you have malicious intent to deliberately harm another person with any bit of juicy truth or half-truth you can lay your hands on. The intention is to throw mud on a reputation. It is the dangerous type because the purpose is to commit character murder.


  1.   4. Full-blown planned political plotters of planned misinformation: The Propaganda politico’s or character snipers. This is serious stuff.  It is more than Goebbels-type War propaganda. We know the first casualty in war, is the truth. But here the intention is to eliminate political foes. It works according to a predictable pattern. Three examples:


(i)            It was used in South Africa and Namibia during the liberation struggle against inner competition inside the movement/political party. Three to four people conspire and start spreading lies about a person. ‘We saw him with the enemy …”.  The rumour starts: You are a spy. Then you got killed in Quatro camp – one of the notorious camps where so-called dissidents got ‘disciplined’. Purpose achieved: Opponent eliminated. This pattern was graphically described twee weeks ago by the Namibian author and political analyst, prof Diesho during a talk in Windhoek.

(ii)           In the spy-vs-spy sage in South Africa, opponents were found fabricating evidence (full emails fabricated and sent out in the name of the other person to implicate the opponent). In other cases people in the intelligence industry stand accused of using the state funded security apparatus (intercepting emails and telephone calls, etc.), to try to uncover ‘dirt’ in the lives of opponents, to use against them.

(iii)          Another pattern was recently used against the Public Protector in South Africa, advocate Thuli Madonsela: She gives politicians a hard time unmasking their wrongdoings. They don’t like her and have tried everything to discredit her, with no avail. The only thing left, is the age old revolutionary trick of calling somebody counter-revolutionary and  a spy. So, coincidentally,  just before the elections, where her evidence could have been damaging to the ruling party,  an ‘anonymous’ source with a pseudo name, posted on social media (such as Twitter) that she is actually a spy for the CIA. It gets picked up by the media and the instigators are happy that they started a run-away fire. She (the Public Protector) unmasks it, ‘nonsenses’ it with a public statement, and put out the fire. Then the instigators persist and start a commission of inquiry, trying to paralyze the person and distract attention from what she is saying against the wrongdoers. Then the ‘disciplinary action’ either disappears in history without outcome, or the perpetrators persist, and will even fabricate more information to cast a shadow of doubt over their foe, in this case the legal Public Protector in South Africa, tasked to protect us against the wrongdoings and the abuse of power by people and politicians who think they are above the law. 


Once you see the pattern, it becomes predictable, and almost boring (and laughable, if it were not so serious), if you see it being repeated all the time. 


Here is another message for you from The Message (MSG):  “You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.” Matthew 12:34-37  in ‘The Message’ (MSG) translation of the Bible. A person of faith believes there is a higher authority that even Kings and presidents must account to. If only they knew that.


George Harrison sings that “Gossip is the Devil’s radio” because twisted truth and knavish speech is the hallmark of the devil.     

“Gossip, gossip, I heard it in the night, Words that thoughtless speak, Like vultures swooping down below, On the devil's radio ….That soul betraying so and so , The devil's radio  … Pollution of the highest degree   .. Like a weed it's spread, 'till nothing else has space to grow, The devil's radio.  Oh yeah,  I heard you on the secret wireless,  Gossip, oh yeah You know the devil's radio ..”

The message is: The tongue must be controlled:  ‘Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.’  James 1:26  New International Version.


Practical advice:  


Let’s get practical. What are we to do in the following three situations: 

  1. If you gossip yourself, 2. If they gossip about you, 3. If they gossip in your ear?


Here is a practical plan against gossip, even a plan to kill gossip and stop it in its tracks. 


  1.   1. If you do it – stop it.


  • ·         Get a life. Stop talking about the lives of others. Perhaps you will achieve more in life working yourself up instead of pulling others down. “Isn't it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?” –according to  Sean Covey, in  The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens.
  • ·         People see through you: They know you can tell more about a person by what that say about others than you can by what others say about them. (Audrey Hepburn)
  • ·         Marie Curie, the first women to win the Nobel Prize and only woman to win twice, said: “Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” She did the pioneering research on radioactivity and brought us X-rays. The more time you focus on other people – the less time you have to focus on achieving your own goals.
  • ·         If you are really inquisitive - channel your energy in the right way.  Become a scientist or investigative journalist – we need more of these.
  • ·         And for the “Propaganda politico’s / character snipers”. Sorry :( – we’ve seen through you and know your ways. If you don’t change, we will reject both you and your methods at the next polls.


  1.   2. If they gossip about you – reframe it, confront it, ignore it, outlive it


If you experience it and is on the receiving side of gossip, you can:  


  • ·         Reframe it:  See it as a compliment and entertainment:  Oscar Wilde said: “If there is anything more annoying in the world than having people talk about you, it is certainly having no one talk about you.” Thank those who gossip about you for making you the centre of their world. It is sometimes fun to give boring people something to discuss. Gossip can also be entertaining: Occasionally you hear the most fascinating things about yourself you never knew.  Also recognise the jealousy of others:  Those who gossip behind your back are behind you for a reason.    
  • ·         Confront it:  Immediately confront the person, summons them to repeat what they have said in front of witnesses. Challenge them to bring provide proof. Immediate action will kill most of all gossip uttered in its tracks.  
  • ·         Ignore it:  Sometime it is so ridiculous that you must just ignore it. Reacting to it can just perpetuate the story. Don’t spend all your time to manage your public persona - the view others have of you. “Reputation is what others think of us; character is what God knows of us”.
  • ·         Outlive it: First of all: Live a life that prevents gossip. Live clean and make it impossible for people to get anything on you. Live in such a way that even if people throw dirt, that it will not stick. -     Will Rogers said: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”  Secondly: When they really go after you: Then outlive it. Deeds speak louder than words.  Live above it. Truth always finds a way to reveal itself. Keep your cool – if they deal in lies – don’t do the same. Don’t descend to their level.   
  • ·         Protect yourself legally: If you are in the middle of an political onslaught or a personal vendetta against you: : Be aware, and protect yourself legally where possible – even get an interdict if necessary.
  • ·         And lastly: Live preventative: Do not entrust information to people who cannot handle it.

What if you are really guilty and every word of gossip about you is true? Then change your ways, and do not try to kill the messenger as current politicians in South Africa try to do. Focus on changing your ways – not zipping the mouths of people or muzzling the press. Like the ridiculous law Robert Mugabe got passed in neighbouring Zimbabwe – believe it or not - that nobody is allowed to criticize the president.   


  1. If they gossip in your ear -  be careful, test it, stop them, walk away, let it die with you, and dis-associate


What if people come to you to gossip about others?


  • Be careful: Be wary: He/she who gossips to you will gossip of you. Tell them your policy is to talk to people – not about people. 
  • Test it: Ask them if the information is verified? Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind? If not urge them to only share necessary verified information. There are two sides to every story. Try to see both .  
  • Stop them: If they say: “I do not want to gossip, but …” then stop them and say, I am glad you don’t want to gossip. The best way to kill gossip is to turn a deaf ear.
  • Walk away: Sometimes you must walk away. Don’t silently concede – then you are part of it and perpetuate it.
  • Let it die with you:  Gossip dies when it reaches a wise person’s ear. Mercedes Lackey said; ‘It's only gossip if you repeat it. Until then, it's gathering information.’  Then sift through the information and reserve judgement. If you don’t see it or hear it first-hand, or test it to be the truth, then don’t share it.


  • Dis-associate: Don’t hang out with people who gossip. This one is radical but it is the Biblical advice in 1 Corinthians 5:11 not even to associate with slanderers:  “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater orslanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (New International Version).


My closing advice:  I have learned not to even believe everything I think, and more so especially not everything I hear. Make this your motto, and you will kill gossip in its tracks.