Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.



I like to say that gossip travels faster than the speed of accuracy. We all know times when gossip has assassinated someone's character quickly and cruelly. So I was surprised to read that some researchers think of gossip as positive, feeling that gossip was an evolutionary tool that helped humans decide who to trust and who not to trust. In the New York Times article Facts Prove No Match for Gossip, It Seems the author tells of a recent study showing that in a game setting designed to test gossip,
most people passed on accurate gossip and used it for the common good. They rewarded cooperative behavior even when they themselves weren’t directly affected by the behavior.
gossip cartoonThen in two rounds, participants were given both hard facts and gossip, knowing that they were being given "facts" and told what others participating in the experiment thought. The researchers found that they were 20% more likely to follow the gossip rather than the facts.

The lead author of the study wondered why one would believe the gossip even when you knew the facts, he guessed that "we are just more adapted to listen to other information than to observe people, because most of the time we’re not able to observe how other people are behaving." He may be right, but I still think he needs to get out of the lab more. A week in middle school would have taught him more about gossip and its effects than a stack of hypothetical studies set in a lab environment.

Look at what the Bible has to say about gossip. These are all the verses using the term in the New Living Translation:
Leviticus 19:16
"Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. "Do not try to get ahead at the cost of your neighbor's life, for I am the LORD.

Psalms 41:6
They visit me as if they are my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere.

Psalms 69:12
I am the favorite topic of town gossip, and all the drunkards sing about me.

Proverbs 11:13
A gossip goes around revealing secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.

Proverbs 16:28
A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.

Proverbs 20:19
A gossip tells secrets, so don't hang around with someone who talks too much.

Proverbs 25:7b-10
Just because you see something, don't be in a hurry to go to court. You might go down before your neighbors in shameful defeat. So discuss the matter with them privately. Don't tell anyone else, or others may accuse you of gossip. Then you will never regain your good reputation.

Proverbs 26:20
Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops.

Romans 1:29
Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.

2 Corinthians 12:20
For I am afraid that when I come to visit you I won't like what I find, and then you won't like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfishness, backstabbing, gossip, conceit, and disorderly behavior.
"What everybody knows" and reality are not always connected. Look at the odd article also found in the Times that tells how crime is going down in Japan, but sales are up on bizarre disguises (such as a Coke machine and manhole cover) to protect people from danger Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place.

I go back to my earlier statement that gossip travels faster than the speed of accuracy and prefer the proverb above "quarrels disappear when gossip stops" to the reserachers' idea that gossip could have developed as a way to help a group function better. What do you think?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor

urban camoflague, one of these machines is a person in hidingThe Coke machine costume referenced above is hiding
a person on the right.



  • At 10/23/2007 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's been a dream of mine to live in Japan as a Coke machine as long as I can remember... :)

    Gossip is bad any way you look at it! A little bit of scientific research can go a long way to justify our sins in the name of human nature. I am capable living within the codes of moral conduct without listening to gossip and passing judgment on others. It's just not as fun to simply rely on facts without the juicey stories behind them. That's why God gave us free will(power)!

  • At 10/23/2007 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm another "anonymous." I have to admit. I love gossip. People fascinate me and I love to hear news of their adventures, exploits or even their misadventures. Malicious gossip is another thing altogether. I'm in my 60s and I learned when I was a teenager that my mother divorced my father when she was pregnant with me because she found out he had syphillis. Lately, I have learned, a not-very-nice woman from my hometown found my mother's medical records in a doctor's office and has beenn showing them to everyone. As it happens, I have always told anyone who seemed interested about my father's venereal disease, and I would do so again. But the idea of someone gossiping about something that happened almost 70 years ago, and about my dead mother, is just disgraceful. Also, who cares? But that is just an example of how some folks can do damage with gossip.

  • At 10/23/2007 2:37 PM, Anonymous Denise said…

    The man in the lab reminds me of the reason I tend to shy away from philosophy most of the time... I'd rather get out and live my life instead of analyze it. I have seen people argue with plain fact just because so-and-so told them different many many times. Maybe it's because we're more apt to trust someone we know than a book, a law, etc. Ever wonder about old-wives-tales, and people that you know who are highly intelligent yet still believe them? One day I'm going to sit d-ray down and go through my list...I just hope his Mom didn't tell him a bunch too. hehehe

  • At 10/23/2007 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    2nd Anonymous,

    It's OK to listen to people's own tales and stories of their adventures, exploits and misadventures. Those are factual. People don't tend to gossip about themselves.

    Gossip is malicious and usually ends up hurting somebody. Simply asking yourself whether or not a bit of information should be shared will tell you if it is gossip. If it shouldn't be shared, then it's gossip. If it will hurt somebody then it's gossip. If the story is questionable, then it's gossip.

    It is really awful that this woman is spreading horrible gossip about your father. Even if it is factual, she's hurting you by doing it. And, you're right--who cares? Your father made a mistake, but it's over now! This just goes to show that gossip is also pointless!

    BTW: Denise,

    I do agree with you that the scientific researcher saying that gossip is positive to human nature is wasting his time because we all know how we are anyway. We know gossip is wrong, but it's still intriguing and it is still done. I don't get the connection of old wives tales and gossip though. Are you saying that we, as intelligent human beings, should be above gossip and old wives tales?

    I disagree, however with your views on philosophy. Our greatest philosophers were given the gift of intricate thought, so that those, who don't like to waste their time in deep thought can go out and simply live. Philosophy does exercise and expand the mind, and some of our greatest thinkers have actually changed the way we are living our lives. I don't see thoughtfulness as a waste of time.

  • At 10/24/2007 9:40 PM, Anonymous denise said…

    For the wives tales, I meant to equate wives tales with gossip and to demonstrate how they can possibly be harmful or at the least make a not so "smart" person believe things that aren't true, especially if they're spread by our elders. One example would be my Grandmother told me of her parents swallowing a finger full of Vick's vapor rub everyday, and because of that they lived to be 82 and 90+. But, my great aunt had a piece of her jaw and gums removed from cancer of the mouth (smoking). My grandmother was convinced it was because of the menthol cigarettes she smoked, even though I tried to explain to her that any cigarettes can lead to cancer. It's something she believed and tried to spread to a younger generation. She told me lots of things, never go to bed with your hair wet, it makes you sick, never go outside with your hair wet, that makes you sick too, etc. Lots of things her mother told her that now just seem silly, as silly as break a mirror and you'll have bad luck, etc. Was she ignorant? Maybe, but she is also a master electrician, a certified ceramic instructor, can sew every garment but a brassiere worked from the time she was 13 until she was 58 and raised three children and two grandchildren. So, should a highly intelligent person be above gossip and old wives tales? Maybe. Does that mean we will? Probably not!

  • At 10/25/2007 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Since it is that time of year, maybe we should have a post blogging about superstition and old wives tales(and how they relate to us as Christians of course).


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