Speak No Evil

It’s easy to squeeze toothpaste out of the tube; near impossible to get it back in. Words are like that.  

“If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say
anything at all.” Have you heard this saying before? If so, then
you must have known my mother growing up. I’m sure she
invented it. In fact I think it was the sentence I most remember
hearing her say throughout my childhood. Well, that and “I can’t
have anything nice with you kids.”

My mom did not tolerate us talking poorly about each other.
“Don’t be a tattle-tale,” she would scold, even when I thought it
was important to tell her my little brother was into her lipstick
— again. But she wouldn’t stand for it.

“Mind your own bees wax. The truth always comes out in the
wash,” she’d assure me. I often found myself looking into our
washing machine for some obvious truth to show itself, but I
usually only found clean clothes … or a couple of dimes and
maybe a nickel at the bottom of the basin if I was real lucky.

“Gossip is news running ahead of itself in a red satin
dress.”

Growing up, I noticed my friends found it easy to point out
the faults in others. In fact, this inclination seemed to be
something that came quite naturally for the majority of people
— including me. I was pretty sure everyone found it easier
to say a tongue twister like, “She sells seashells?” than keep their
twisted tongues silent about what a lame sales person
she was.

While I’d like to believe most parents teach their children that
gossip is wrong, I think we’ve created a culture where gossip is
often accepted. In the secular world, we even glorify it and put it
in lights with a neat and tidy masthead called “Gossip Column”
just in case anyone was unclear about the matter. Syndicated
columnist Liz Smith wrote, “Gossip is news running ahead of itself
in a red satin dress.”

If gossip wears a red satin dress in the secular world, then it
must wear a drop-waist denim jumper in Christian circles. You’ve
seen it: gossip disguised as a “prayer request.” It often sounds
something like, “Oh, did you hear about Lisa? She’s pregnant and
is pretty sure Chad doesn’t want to marry her. Can you
believe it? Pray for her.”

My sister lives in the south, and I like the way many
southerners start off a gossipy sentence (say this in a southern
accent): “I don’t mean to be ugly, but …” Or what about when we
say, “Yeah, Randy flunked Biology again. Bless his heart.” I’m
convinced some people think that if they add the phrase, “Bless
his heart” to a tidbit of gossip, it doesn’t count as
pure gossip, but more like sympathetic information
sharing. When we all really know that most of the time, “Bless his
heart” means “What a dummy.”

When did we get so cavalier about blessing others —
and cursing them? I guess it’s been going on a while, since even
the Psalmist wrote about it, saying, “With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse” (Psalm 62:4b). There have been
times when I was careless about “cursing” another. Like the time I
expressed my irritation about one co-worker to another co-
worker in an email. Granted, while what I wrote was couched in
humor and jest, it was still mean-spirited gossip. I saw my friend
later that day and asked her, “So, did you laugh at my e-mail
about you-know-who?” When she replied, “What email?” I turned
white as a ghost. To my horror, I had accidentally sent the email
to “you-know-who.”

Let me tell you, there was no thrill in being “ugly” that time.
And it’s not just because I got caught — though that did
force me to learn a valuable lesson. Fear-based obedience can’t
be all that bad, right? Is it so wrong to keep your big yapper shut
for fear that someone may hear you talking poorly about another
person? The wisdom of Ecclesiastes proposes it in chapter 10,
verse 20:

Do not revile the king even in your thoughts,
or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may
carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you
say.

Well I’ve met those birds, and trust me, they’ve got good
ears. Those birds were in Denny’s one morning and were listening
in as my friends and I discussed our weekly Bible study.
Somehow, this particular morning of study of God’s holy Word
turned into a rag session about a particular co-worker. Later that
day, this particular co-worker came up to me and said, “Kara, I
just want you to know that a friend of mine heard what was said
about me this morning at your Bible study, and she told me
everything.”

Hey, now just relax. Don’t you think I learned my lesson from
the heinous, gossipy e-mail I sent that still makes me wince? I
am teachable, you know. Anyway, this co-worker
went on to say, “And I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am to
you that you defended my character.”

Whew. That’s all I could think (So, I don’t blame
you for thinking it, too). I walked back to my office utterly
stunned. Whew. Thank God I defended his character. What
if I hadn’t?
While this man and his wife had always been
good to me, it’s true he was a little quirky. It could have been
easy for me to jump on the gossip bandwagon.

And then it hit me: I was more concerned about what he
thought than what God thought. Sure, that time I did the right
thing. But what if every time there was an opportunity to gossip, I
thought more about how it wounds God’s heart even more than it
would the person I slandered? What if I tried to take captive every
thought and make it obedient to Christ? What if I at least tried?
What if I could just bite my tongue?

Oh, the tongue. I know Jesus said that what comes out of the
mouth gets its start in the heart, but you’d think we could just
learn to keep our mouths shut. I blame it on the tongue. It is the
strongest muscle in the human body, you know. It’s true —
just consult Grays Anatomy. It’s hard to believe that such a little
thing can cause so much damage. The disciple James agrees, and
writes,

… the tongue is a small part of the body, but it
makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by
a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the
parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole
course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (James
3:5-6).

Gulp. (Note: the tongue also makes gulping possible.)

Yet, the tongue can also speak blessings. Inspiring and
affirming words of the tongue can change the course of a
person’s life. Presidents have moved entire nations with their
speech. Commanders have motivated their soldiers with words to
win battles against all odds. Parents can train and encourage a
child with the simple praise of their lips.

Here’s the bottom line: “Whoever of you loves life and wants
to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips
from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13-14). Why not choose to speak
“life,” and bless others with the power of your words?

Copyright 2005 Kara Schwab. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Kara Schwab

Kara Schwab loves being a freelance writer and mommy. When she’s not writing, she can be spotted with her husband, two little girls and boston terrier in Colorado Springs, Colo.