“She said what about me?!”
I thought I was accustomed to hearing criticism and negativity against me. But lately, I’ve been learning a whole new level of relying on God for patience. I’ve also discovered that there’s a big difference between someone criticizing you directly and someone gossiping about you or slandering you behind your back.
There is a time and place to speak of others, either negatively or positively. Sometimes things happen that cause a person to need to vent or speak about their issues with someone they can trust. However, far too often, stories are relayed simply because it is more-or-less exciting news, or because someone is trying to make themselves look good by talking down about someone else.
(When I say gossiper, I mean someone that spreads around information–true or enlarged–that they have no business spreading. When I say slanderer, I mean someone that spreads around false information and lies. These titles apply both to real life and to internet life, whether things are spoken in person, on the phone, or through the keyboard.)
Imagine you’ve just discovered that someone is talking about you behind your back. Maybe an enemy is accusing you of being a hopeless flirt. Or maybe a friend you trusted with a prayer request told the rest of the church about your secret struggle. Emotions rush through you in quick succession. Anger, embarrassment, and a horde of other emotions tumble over each other in your mind.
What do you do when you face gossip and slander? Here are some tips that might help you handle the situation.
This one is important. Not only does breathing help your brain work better, but it also keeps you from passing out in shock over some of the ridiculous things that some people say. Seriously though, after hearing all about the drama, take a moment to breathe before attempting to process it. Your mind will thank you.
2. Don’t Answer In Kind
Humans are inherently flawed. When I hear that someone was talking trash about me, my first inclination is almost always to think of something bad I’ve observed about them. It’s easy to say, “Well, she has no place to talk because she has problems here, here, and here!”
This is not a godly reaction; it is retaliatory. There is a place for thinking of the nature of the gossiper and why s/he might have said what they did, but snapping back with criticism of another is not a wise course of action. It just sucks you into the messy gossip circle. You may think your response is smart, but most of the time it is merely impulsive. Regret usually follows soon after.
3. Consider the Source
Where the bad news comes from is a big deal. Did you hear the gossip or slander with your own ears? Or did a tale-bearer tell you about it?
Gossip and slander are tricky vices in the way that they always require at least two people to operate: the person doing the talking and the person(s) doing the listening. I usually have two questions for anyone who tattles drama to me. “First of all, why did the gossiper/slanderer feel free to talk to you about me? Second, why are you telling me about what they said? For my good? Or just to see my reaction?”
It is especially important to consider the source when dealing with those who constantly have a tale to tell. I usually mentally mark those as people who can’t be trusted with a secret. They may be well-meaning, but oftentimes they blurt out half-truths and don’t realize the damage it can cause.
This isn’t just one step: prayer is vitally important throughout every step of dealing with gossip and slander. It’s easy to get angry, self-righteous, and prideful. Make sure to pray for your own heart as well as the hearts of everyone involved in the gossip circle. Growing bitter will not make the pain hurt less. Try your best to forgive and turn the other cheek. This may be a process that takes awhile, which is yet another reason to bathe the situation in prayer.
5. Call Off the Pity Party
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
(Matthew 5:11-12 NKJV)
God does not desire for His people to be victims: we are more than conquerors. Even though gossip and slander can be depressing, you don’t have to let circumstances make a helpless martyr out of you. Draw on the Holy Spirit and be strong in Him. Even if the gossipers are telling semi-truths about your struggles or your past, you are a new creation in the Lord. Trust Him and His love for you. He will never leave you or forsake you, no matter what you’ve done. He is more than able to redeem you and this situation for His glory and your good.
6. Let Go
Unfortunately, there is no controlling gossip and slander. If it is so very difficult to bridle our tongue, what makes us think we might be able to tame someone else’s tongue? No matter what you do, you cannot stop someone else from talking about you. The only person you have control over is yourself, your words, and your responses. Once you realize this, it will enable you to see clearly what options you do have. Instead of thinking in vain that you wish they would stop, you can decide what to do with your situation and move forward with your life.
Let go, friend. Please let go.
Now we’ve come to the action. What are you going to do now?
One option is to do nothing. To be patient and let the blow glance off. To use the situation as an opportunity for growth.
Another option is to go to the root of the rumor and talk to them about what they said. Sometimes, after talking to them, you may even find out that they didn’t say what was reported to you or that it was all a misunderstanding.
Whatever you choose to do, keep in mind that gossipers and slanderers thrive on drama. If you give them an emotional response, most likely it will only provide fuel for their next escapade.
Remember, too, that it’s usually best not to go seeking out people’s opinions of you. If you unwittingly stumble into an opportunity to hear or read people’s non-constructive criticism or negative opinions of you, don’t stick around and listen. Walk (or run) away. Only listen to your Master’s voice and those who build up with His words of love.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)
Note: Some of the worst kinds of slanderers will make false accusations that can put you in trouble with the law. If you are under attack in this sort of way, or if you have had a malicious threat delivered against you, contact your local law enforcement and defend yourself accordingly. It may be just words, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.