Perhaps you’ve had the unsettling experience of finishing a conversation, walking away, and wondering whether what you just said was gossip. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Gossip is a shadowy sin, blurry around the edges. When are our conversations hushed on account of discretion, and when are they simply the delightful whispers of the gossip (Proverbs 18:8)? When we learn new information about another person, we have several options. We can speak to that person about what we’ve learned, speak to other people about it, or keep it to ourselves and speak to God. Gossip is saying behind someone’s back what we should say to their face, or not at all. But life is complex. Sometimes we must seek prayer and wisdom from godly friends when struggling with difficult relationships with a child, spouse, neighbor, co-worker, or fellow church-member. It’s in these situations that we should be particularly careful that our counsel-seeking doesn’t simply become an excuse for gossip.
Here are eight diagnostic questions to help you discern with me whether, in talking to others about another person with whom we’re struggling, we’re actually gossiping.
1. If you’re involved in conflict with another person, are you talking to others only about that person’s sin and never about your own? If so, it’s probably gossip.