Gossip: No 'Mynah' Problem

for the week of July 2, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

Immense pain can be caused by passing on hurtful remarks. Whether or not the intent to do harm is present, the result is likely to be the same.

To illustrate the damage gossip does, consider the fact that a couple in Shanghai, China, is in the process of getting a divorce. Why? The woman was convinced her husband was having an affair by the chattering of the couple's pet mynah bird. It was using words such as "I love you," "be patient," and "divorce" particularly following the ringing of the phone.

I have no idea about the merits of the case or the likelihood of the bird getting to testify in court. The thing I am certain about is that human tongues have spread more pain and misery than talking birds. And we have the rational powers that can warn us of the harm of speaking too freely or carelessly.

Yes, there are occasional situations in which an unflattering truth about another must be spoken. But we are too quick to hide behind "It's the truth!" when telling something we know could be better left unspoken.

In a fascinating commentary on an event in the life of Abraham, Jewish rabbis pointed out that God himself refused to pass along potentially hurtful words from another person. When three strangers visited the camp of Abraham and Sarah, they promised the couple a child within a year.

Sarah heard their words and laughed to herself: "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?" (Genesis 18:12). The rabbis were struck by what the Lord did not say in reporting the essence of Sarah's statement. He left out the comment about Abraham's advanced age words that could have caused resentment to pass from a husband to his wife. He simply has Sarah asking, "Will I really have a child, now that I am old?" (Genesis 18:13).

Most people could benefit from the Four-Way Test of the Rotary Club: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

If God himself was kind enough to leave some things left unsaid in his report of Sarah's shocked reaction to Abraham, perhaps we should be more thoughtful with our words. "The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the part of the body. It corrupts the whole person . . ." (James 3:6).

Destructive words are savage weapons, not just mynah indiscretions.

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