Talking about people-is it a sin

When is it sinful to talk about people? I feel like I am a gossiper and I am wondering if it is sinful. Examples:

A neighbor asks if you know what is going on at another neighbors house because the police were there again…I do know (issues with ex-wife) is it sinful to tell her what I know?

My father is very difficult to get along with and I talk with my sister-in-law about him? What he has recently done to me or another family member. Really trying to figure out what is going on in his head. Is that sinful?

Or is it only sinful if it starts “I am not sure if it is true, but I heard…”

Just wanting to get a handle on this…

Excellent question.

Intent is important in such discussions, as well as the potentially damaging effects of telling someone else something about a friend, neighbor or family member which is none of their business.

If it does harm to someone or potentially can do harm to someone, it may be sinful. (Pretty vague answer, eh? :shrug:)

In the case of a neighbor and the police visit, IMHO it would not be improper to say that the police visit was apparently a family matter and leave it at that. The details are not the business of anyone else.

In the case of your own family, as long as it affects you directly or someone in your family (which it would appear to be so), and as long as your intent is to improve family relations, what you are speaking of does not appear to be inappropriate nor sinful.

IMHO, chit-chat with the neighbor about another neighbor is gossiping.
Discussing a family member and how to better deal with them with another family matter is not gossip it is trying to solve a problem. Of course going to the source might work better, but :shrug:

Here is a quote that I have tacked to my wall in my office cubicle area. This quote is out of the “Our Lady of Fatima” book by William T. Walsh, page 179.

“My little mother, do not walk in the midst of luxry. Flee from riches. Be very friendly to holy poverty and to silence. Have great charity even for the wicked. Speak ill of no one and flee from those who do. Be very patient, for patience carries us to heaven. Mortification and sacrifices pelase Our Lord a great deal.”

I love this quote, it helps me to remember to not talk bad about others, that includes, family members, friends etc.

Talking about others isn’t always a sin, but it can quickly cross the line into gossip. If you think you have crossed the line into sin, you probably have.

You don’t need to discuss, vent and process with your SIL everything that your father does. You already know he’s difficult to get along with–talking about his every action with someone else to try and figure him out may not really help the situation. In my own experience with a difficult family member, talking about the person with others doesn’t help past a certain point. It keeps you focussed on the person’s faults and then you find more of the negative instead of looking for their good points.

Talking about a neighbor also can quickly fall into gossip although it is not alway gossip. Local papers usually record police activity to let others know about crimes and problems in the community for the safety of the community, (not for idle gossip.) It would be okay to let another neighbor know if there was a burglery or something like that, but since this police visit related to domestic problems it becomes much more difficult to say anything without falling into gossip.

CCC 2476 False witness and perjury. When it is made publicly, a statement contrary to the truth takes on a particular gravity. In court it becomes false witness. When it is under oath, it is perjury. Acts such as these contribute to condemnation of the innocent, exoneration of the guilty, or the increased punishment of the accused. They gravely compromise the exercise of justice and the fairness of judicial decisions.

CCC 2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

  • of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

  • of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

  • of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

CCC 2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

CCC 2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

CCC 2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

CCC 2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

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Simple answer - yes. If you can’t say something nice about someone, better to say nothing at all. Instead we find every reason to point otu the faults of others and overlook our own.

I think that gossip has an important social role, more important than its potential sinfulness.

A little boy peed in public in front of the little girl we take care of. Gossipers said, "Watch out, Pete – that kid has sex problems.

Lo and behold, he turned out to be our local public school’s biggest sex offender.

A husband in our town struck acquaintances as an excellent person – a “prince of men.”

Gossipers said, “Pete, look out – he’s a spouse abuser.”

Lo and behold, what I had previously seen was only a facade. We pulled the girl into our house for about a month till she set up alternate living arrangements, after he strangled her.

Pete - agreed.

I started a thread over in the Social Justice forum titled “What exactly IS gossip?” in order to try to get a handle on the difference between the legitimate sharing of information needed to protect the safety of oneself, one’s family and one’s neighborhood and the sort of damaging slander and calumny which unfairly destroys reputations.

One of the posters suggested that only information that is public should be shared, but as you point out, “gossip” is frequently very accurate, even if no one has proof. I tend to come down on the side of wanting to have and evaluate all the iinformation that’s available, and I will listen to gossip for that purpose. And, I will share my observations and suspicions with others, if they ask, if I think that could help to keep them safe.

There are some who say we shouldn’t ever say anything negative about anyone. But I don’t think that’s realistic – it provides cover for people who do bad things. As in your example, where you thought someone was a great guy, but someone warned you that they weren’t.

On the other hand, it’s very easy for some people to fall into talking about the faults of other people just because they like to get into their business and enjoy hearing about salacious details.

It’s very difficult to know how to balance our need for information in a dangerous world against our responsibility to protect the privacy and reputation of others. :shrug:

It’s good to consider the other posts and the discussions of the definitions in the Catechism.

But, as for learning the self-discipline of not gossiping or any of the other forms of “telling stories”:

  1. Learn to obey the command of Christ to not judge anybody. If you don’t judge anybody, it may be easier to not talk about them or anybody. It will be easier to avoid jumping to conclusions and condemning somebody.

  2. Speaking with family members, especially younger family members, about those in the family with “problems” – first, first, first, learn to be a disciple of Christ and bring His message of forgiveness – that might be a big issue – how do we forgive so-and-so.

  3. I’ve been speaking to a younger family member about an older person who is difficult to deal with. I’ve studied that person for decades and had some suggestions for the younger one about dealing with the older one.

  4. With the availability of a computer, sometimes I write myself a long letter and spill my guts about what I have to say. I think it helps just to get it off my chest this way. Then, if I have to say anything at all, I try to make the most positive short summary of anything I thought I had to say.

  5. I used to work in health care, and there you are supposed to be non-judgmental and certainly cannot talk about anybody or anything. Whatever I heard or saw – really – wasn’t even my business. There are many things that will die with me. Pretend you’re a nurse or doctor or lawyer and keep your lips buttoned up.

  6. Realize that somebody is going to come along and try to “push your button” and get you to spill your guts out. Just say ‘no.’

Here’s some gossip: I worked with a young woman who was a gossip. When a new employee was hired, she’d quickly make phony friends with that person and say: Tell me all about yourself and don’t leave anything out. What do you think about such a person?

Once she said she couldn’t resist, and SHE made a wedding announcement for another person. Can you imagine? She said she couldn’t hold it in any more. It was a guy, and I said, Hey, Joe, since we’re getting so up close and personal, could you please pass around your wallet so we could look over a “few things?”

I sent a note to a priest about the late bishop and some things he had published. When that priest saw me, he physically pushed me out of the rectory and accused me of trying to destroy the late bishop’s reputation. Needless to say, he didn’t want to discuss it. He not only pushed me out the door, he kept pushing me down the sidewalk.

Crumpy wrote “Learn to obey the command of Christ to not judge anybody. If you don’t judge anybody, it may be easier to not talk about them or anybody. It will be easier to avoid jumping to conclusions and condemning somebody.”

I believe the prohibition against judging is against judging the state of anothers soul. We are allowed to, and MUST, judge ACTIONS. The question becomes how, if at all, we communicate what we know. To me, it depends on whether telling what we know will protect someone else, or not telling what we know will place them in danger.

Crumpy wrote “I’ve been speaking to a younger family member about an older person who is difficult to deal with. I’ve studied that person for decades and had some suggestions for the younger one about dealing with the older one.” Using the above criteria, the young family member should not be talking about the older one, or “judging” him to be difficult, and Crumpy should not be giving any suggestions because that’s supporting the “judgment” that the person is difficult. Of course, I don’t agree with that analysis. Acting as if the person isn’t difficult when they plainly are, out of some fear of “judging” them, is to suspend reality. Sometimes we need to be able to talk to others about difficult people, and I don’t think it’s gossip if we are genuinely seeking or giving needed advice. I think human interaction would be seriously hampered if we can’t discuss the negative experiences we have with others without being accused of “gossip.”

Crumpy wrote: “I used to work in health care, and there you are supposed to be non-judgmental and certainly cannot talk about anybody or anything. Whatever I heard or saw – really – wasn’t even my business. There are many things that will die with me. Pretend you’re a nurse or doctor or lawyer and keep your lips buttoned up.” I’m sure Crumpy doesn’t really mean this. I’m sure he would make a pretty fast judgment if he saw another health care worker sexually assaulting a patient, and that he would not consider such a thing none of his business. It is generally not considered gossip to report wrongdoing to the proper authorities, but sometimes it is…for example, when Crumpy made what he believed to be a legitimate complaint about his former Bishop, it was interpreted by someone else as being slander/calumny. So, there appears to be a line between legitimate complaints and gossip - but it is quite unclear where that line is, and it may depend upon whose ox is being gored.

Obviously, no one should be announcing wedding plans for other people, or asking personal and prying questions for no reason other than idle curiosity. I think I would put these things in the “gossip” category - there’s no legitimate reason to do them. But we can’t protect ourselves if we attempt to ignore bad behavior because we don’t want to judge or because we don’t have unimpeachable proof. As I mentioned in the other thread, that’s how the sexual abuse crisis happened…while everyone was being charitable, and non-judgmental, children were being raped and their lives ruined. And that’s how women and children suffer abuse without any help, and dishonest people cheat their clients, and sociopaths prey on the innocent and gullible. And the people who do those things will be the first to accuse you of being “judgmental” if you try to bring their misdeeds into the open.

BUT, gossip IS a bad thing, and ruins many relationships and hurts many people. I think motivation makes a huge difference. Telling someone that another neighbor drinks too much might be gossip over the back fence, but it might be a necessity if that person is trying to borrow that someone’s car late at night. :shrug:

You still shouldn’t talk about others-even if it’s true. Because the one time you mess up and talk an untruth you damage the person’s character by slander and that becomes a sin. If we are toavoid the near occasions of sin start with our speech and don’t talk about others. The story about the kid who peed in public is ludicrous. There is no absolute cause and effect. Lots of young boys do that once and don’t turn out that way. If you can’t say something constructive don’t say anything.

You make some good points. Talking about other people is *not *always gossip. Imagine how difficult it would be for the police trying to conduct a criminal investigation if everyone refused to say anything about other people. Of course motivation for saying something makes a difference with how God judges us, yet even harmful gossip and rumors might be motivated by good intentions. We need to evaluate situations in context and use charity and common sense.

The original poster mentions two examples: a family member with a difficult personality and a neighbor with police contact over domestic problems. In the case of the difficult family member, didn’t sound like there was much point behind the discussion beyond venting and perhaps gaining some perspective. The SIL is already aware that the dad is difficult and so is the op, and while the specifics and details may be new, it sounds like basically old news that serves little purpose being discussed. It’s easy for such conversations to slip into needless, idle talk about a difficult personality. Especially as this is her dad, the op should take care that she honors her father.

With situation of neighbors, there is a legitimate reason for neighbors to ask about police visits and possible criminal activity in the neighborhood as it may affect the neighbors. Since the police call was about a domestic issue, answering the inquiry requires caution. The op knows more details than the neighbor has a right to know. But domestic disputes can turn very ugly and sometimes harm children and innocent bystanders. It might be helpful to ask the neighbor who called the police what amount of information she/he is comfortable allowing the neighbors to know. An estranged ex may not desire the neighbors to know if he/she is violating restraining orders or custody orders–but as Abigail wrote sometimes those who do wrong get away with crimes because nice people are afraid to speak ill of others.

I LOVE that quote! I am going to print it and try my hardest to stick to it.

The best (and most simple) definition of GOSSIP that I ever came across was:
“Telling someone something about another, when they are neither part of the problem, nor of the solution.”
This stands all the more with us Christians because it can lead to further sins of; Scandal, detraction and the like. It doesn’t help that very often we hide our gossip behind the mask of “Concern for our brother”, and only “share” the details because we want others to “pray” for the “situation”. I’m pointing the honest finger at myself here :o

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