POPE Francis recently urged representatives of the association of hairdressers, hairstylists and beauticians of Italy to avoid giving in to the temptation of gossip.
He has spoken about gossip several times since his election to the papacy in 2013.
In a 2018 general audience address, the Pope referred to gossip as a “form of terrorism”, and an act of war.
“Gossip is not a work of the Holy Spirit; it is not a work of the unity of the Church,” Pope Francis said.
“Gossip destroys the work of God. Please, stop gossiping. Gossip is war.”
But what exactly is gossip and how can it be managed?
Brisbane Deacon Josh Whitehead said gossip was any form of communication which “tears people down instead of building them up – even when no harm is meant”.
“Most of the time, we intuitively know when we’re gossiping about people: the object of our gossip is not usually present to hear or read what we’ve said about them and, therefore, is not able to defend themselves,” he said.
Deacon Whitehead said the problem of gossip was addressed directly in the Bible; however it was the motif of “building others up” that provided the strongest foundation for turning away from gossip.
“St Paul tells the Thessalonians (5:11), ‘Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’,” he said.
“St Paul’s encouragement is strongly rooted in the Johannine love commandment: ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34).”
Annerley parishioner Marnie Hewitt said gossiping came with a price.
“I usually realise I’m gossiping if I desperately want the conversation to stay private and not go back to the person we are discussing,” Ms Hewitt said.
“Once I realise, it’s funny … I feel so guilty I just say a prayer for the person.
“I mean if you are talking about someone it’s usually about (his or her) actions, and their actions are a reflection of how they are feeling so they probably need all the prayers they can get.”
Deacon Whitehead said spiritual exercises could help with turning away from gossip.
“My favourite spiritual exercise when I find myself descending into gossip is to repeat Psalm 70:1 – ‘Come to my help, O God. Lord, hurry to my rescue’,” he said.
“By directly turning to God and asking for help when we gossip, we place our weakness in the hands of the One who makes us strong (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:10).
“Another way to help with gossip is to ask a friend for help by giving them permission to hold us accountable when/if they hear us gossip.”
Emmanuel Community moderator Pat Keady shares Pope Francis’ sentiments when he hears gossiping.
“I think ‘yuck’; it turns me off. I have a very low tolerance for gossip,” Mr Keady said.
“Gossip separates close friends – I’ve seen that happen.
“St Paul was pretty strong on commanding his communities not to ‘go around from house to house in idle gossip’.
“And the book of Psalms and Wisdom are explicit in how ‘the wise person tames their tongue, but a fool vents his folly for all to hear’ etc.”
Mr Keady is also aware of the ease in which gossip can sneak into minds and tongues.
“My conscience does catch me in gossip – usually right smack bang in the middle of sharing something that I shouldn’t – but it’s too late,” he said.
“What I try to do is just back away from the conversation as soon as possible and shut my mouth.
“Once the feathers are out of the pillow, as the Cure of Ars (St John Vianney) famously said, it’s often too late.
“Just try catching all those feathers.
“I apologise to the Lord inwardly and try to verbally build up the person or situation I was speaking about as soon as possible.”